Since the early villages of human habitation, our sense of home has evoked many emotions. It has evolved over the years from providing mere security and warmth to being an outward expression of our deepest, artistic sensibilities and pragmatism. What started as bare caves, dug out structures, and eventually simple tents (EcoLogica Cup, 2012, “Home In History”) has grown into super-sized four story homes with three door garages constructed similarly to their surrounding neighbors. While this direction of home design has not hindered the functions of a home important to tradition and culture, it has certainly transformed the vision of a home to focus less on quality and more on quantity. As a society, we have lost a sense of identity by mass producing our homes rather than creating them as individual works of art as they did during the Victorian Era. By taking a more thoughtful approach to the craftsmanship in a design, rather than the cookie-cutter mentality of today’s world, architecture’s main focus would be on quality and individuality. Society would benefit by creating buildings and homes with as much elegance as those of the Victorian Era, with more craftsmanship in the design as well as the execution.
Beginning from the mid 1820’s to the early 1900’s, the Victorian Era produced some of the world’s most unique styles of architecture. Spurred on by the advent of the Industrial Revolution interesting and new materials made construction easier and cheaper to transport from place to place. With these new materials more readily available and the cost of products lessening, an emergence of a strong middle class – that could afford nicer things – appeared. (R. Green, Telephone Interview, October 21, 2012.) There was now a “new need for a new style of architecture” (Curl, 1990, pg. 18) that allowed “architects [to] experiment” (Victorian Station, 2012, “Architecture”). However, many of the newly developed styles were criticized early on for their ornateness and even condemned as failures for their “needless complexity and clutter” (cite). People of the Victorian Era were not acquainted with the proletariat feeling that followed Victorian architecture and therefore thought it a waste. Iron railings, steep roofs, pillars, bold o ornamentation and other characteristics were not altogether new designs of the time but certainly caught people off guard when these unique style characteristics started to overlap. Despite the quality of Victorian architecture, the people of the Victorian Era reacted to the new way of architecture as “too showy, too emotional, too upsetting, and altogether too grand” (Curl, 1990, pg. 25).
Victorian architecture leaned more towards complex and sophisticated designs. With its “[construction] based on history, nature, geometry, theory, [and] personal inspiration” (Victorian Station, 2012, “Architecture”), there was no end to the variation of styles for Victorian construction. Starting with revivals of Greek and Gothic architecture, the Victorian architects embarked on a “period of redevelopment by filling in or by replacement [of] the existing [buildings]” (Summerson, 1976, pg. 82). The design and craftsmanship of these architects, demonstrated through the use of material and style, is very unlike the design and craftsmanship practiced in today’s architecture.
While Americans strive for the biggest and the best in most products, they often skip the ideals of quality, something the Victorian Era is frequently admired for. The craftsmanship in most buildings, but certainly not all structures across America, has continued down a never ending cycle with the idea that cheaper is better. While cheaper products have the potential to be better than higher priced, the likelihood that they truly are better is very slim. The quality of the products Americans purchase is rapidly declining and has quickly made its way into not only retail store bought products, but structures and housing as well. Homes in America are not crafted today as they were in the Victorian Era, where each piece was individualized and put together like a work of art. Instead, modern American homes are prefabricated and pre-modulated structures made to be fitted together on site in a matter of days. As a result, many homes turn out to look the same whereas no two Victorian Era homes looked identical. Bay windows, intricate ornamentation, large porches, columns, and sometimes towers were each given much attention to the perfect fit and aesthetics in Victorian homes.
In American homes today, it’s easy, even for the untrained eye, to pinpoint a construction error where two walls did not square or the siding on a home is not the same color on one side as it is that other. Americans have adapted the assembly line process in the construction of their homes. While this saves both time and money, the appearance of a home is no longer a reflection of those who live there. Americans have Levitt Town homes to thank for this process and the cookie cutter mentality. Constructed to house returning soldiers after World War II, Levitt Town homes appeared throughout the country. The construction of village like gingerbread houses did their job exceptionally well but instead of returning to building homes of quality, Americans realized they could create assembly-line homes at an affordable price for even the poorest citizen.
It is rare today to drive through a town and find a home with true grace and style as those built during the Victorian Era. With few homes designed and crafted with care and attention to individuality, Americans are losing not only their uniqueness but also a degree of self-identity and worth. The decision to choose quantity over quality may is more suitable to buying cheaper goods, but it certainly should not be a factor when designing a home. With each passing day, Victorian architectural influences disappear little by little as more and more factory-fabricated homes of the same design are planted across the nation. The cheaper, assembly-line methods used to manufacture homes in America are not meant to last long – the quality that it takes for a structure to withstand time is simply not there. If more of the design world was focused on quality, like in the Victorian Era, houses and buildings could benefit society instead of constricting our appreciative horizons by designing acres of homes with look-a-like buildings.
If the architectural design community was ever to be more focused and committed to creating homes with true character, as in the Victorian Era, then our society might appreciate more of the truly unique characteristics of American design culture left to us by our 18th century forefathers. Until then, we will bob-and-wash along with the flotsam of prefabricated fiberboard walls and homasote panels, as keenly unaware of our rich architectural heritage as we are accepting the combination of architectural conceit and official bad taste that has gone remotely by the name of architecture today.
Architecture. Victorian Station. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from http://www.victorianstation.com/viarch.html
Curl, J. 1990. Victorian Architecture. London: Newton Abbot
Home in History. EcoLogica Cup. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from http://www.ecologicacup.unile.it/casa_storia_en.aspx
Summerson, J. 1976. The Architecture of Victorian London. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia