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On dwelling

I had a sculpture professor during my undergraduate who said that “the strange thing about the infinite choices offered by democracy is that infinite choices do not produce infinite objects. And, after a while things start to all look alike.”

He would point out that cars were a perfect example, “they started by looking different and now, 70 years later, they all look alike.” Who can tell apart the generic black compacts or the luxurious silver sedans?

Jeans are another example of sameness. My daughter once wrote a piece on it for her college’s fashion magazine:

Hi-rise, mid-rise, low-rise (hip huggers), loose fit, carpenter, boyfriend, phat pants, relaxed, baggy, boot-cut, flare, wide leg, straight leg, and the immensely popular skinny leg, dark wash, light wash, the 80s classic acid wash, stonewashed, distressed. These denim demigods are still constantly reinvented with a myriad of varieties. There is a pair of jeans for everyone. Every major company and designer makes them. This is America and we are the jean culture.

Jeans have become our uniform.

The tyranny of consumerism, of infinite choices, is that eventually we all want the same thing. Capitalism is supposed to free us by choice, by allowing us choice: we can express our individuality. But choice is exhausting! And, the worst is that the irony of the situation seems lost on us.

Design and architecture are not exempt here. After a renaissance of modern design, we now find ourselves under the grips of what I call “Dwell light”–representing a house as thought it was made with a kit.

Dwell, as you may know, is a design/shelter magazine that was started about decade ago in the Bay Area. The magazine has done a lot to put modern architecture back in the forefront of residential design.

Unfortunately Dwell now represents only one kind of modernism (of course there is more than one kind– there’s always choice in architecture!).

And you know the kind: right degree angles, flat roofs, Ipe siding, large overhangs, boxy bay windows, big sliding doors with open corners, wood floors—bamboo (you end up rolling your eyes at how green it is)—these elements have become the predominant language of Dwell residential architecture.  And do not forget the silver sedan in the garage.

After serving on many architecture juries through out the USA, I can tell you the Dwell Light disease has spread across the country. DL has rendered homes indistinguishable from one and another. Lost is the individual creative voice of the designer, it has been replaced here as with cars and jeans by the desire for the mean, the unintentional uniform. And that’s never a good place for design to be.

This is a call to action. Join me! Just Say No to “Dwell Light!”

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hear! Hear! I’ll join in on that. But regarding: “The tyranny of consumerism, of infinite choices, is that eventually we all want the same thing.” That would, of course, nullify choosing to say no. We all want the same thing only when we fail in our efforts to honestly know ourselves and honor that.
    Our similarities don’t have to obscure our uniqueness as individuals. Nor, on the other hand, does uniqueness need to be blared at full volume, which of course is not an improvement.
    Although the issue is much more complex than this, “nature”, outer and inner, and beyond all the cliches, is a good reference for sorting it out. Good thought provoking piece; thanks

    September 24, 2012
  2. therese bissell #


    September 24, 2012
  3. Ben Franklin Beast Mode #

    Great post. The Dwell Light brand is definitely a certain 1950s era style, rendered bland when repeated ad infinitum. It sort of becomes Better Homes and Gardens when you see it on page after page. And the people in it are like sad, aging, trust-fund hipsters who become older (a la unhappy hipsters) and start reproducing. I think when designers and editors come from tame suburban upbringings there is little drama in their designs and editorial choices.

    September 25, 2012
  4. Anne, you are of course spot on here. I think much of what is being lost is the spirit of inventiveness that created Modernism. We have too much of going after a “look”, and not enough exploration of new ideas, materials, and types of spaces. And a critical eye towards the accepted “program” wouldn’t hurt either. It is always interesting to think about how one makes design personal, how it speaks to the individua- perhaps we all need to ask that question a little more often.

    September 25, 2012

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