My kids and I were streaming The Game on Netflix the other day. David Fincher favors gloom, most shots were in the shadows. My internet connection is decent enough, but the blacks were poorly rendered, the resolution choked by the information available in the stream. “Can you believe this?’ I grumbled to my boys. “No big deal,” one of them mumbled, unfazed.
Why the acceptance of the flight from quality in the past 50 years? MP3s pale to the range of CDs and reel-to-reel tape, and for some, vinyl. Watching a movie on a smart phone offers little pleasure, even if you can watch anywhere at any time. YouTube content is damn near universally dreadful on every level (to paraphrase The The, anyone can be a filmmaker, so everyone has to try). Food – take out, fast, pre packaged (“value-added”), half baked, pre-prepared, instant, supersized, fun – lumbers into our pantries, replacing the time-consuming yet experiential process of learning to cook while preparing and eating home-cooked meals. Even games have devolved towards simplicity to suit mobile platforms and our diminishing attention span. Angry Birds is barely more sophisticated than Atari’s 1976 Breakout. I’m not nostalgic for the old days. I’ll admit some dependence on my smart phone, but wasn’t the future supposed to be more convenient and better?
Design in the past half century has focused on making goods and services more accessible, cheap, immediately gratifying, and desirable, yet so often briefly fashionable and disposable. In our profession, for the vast majority of buildings, aesthetic accessibility and value has translated to banal architecture. Home sizes have swelled in parallel to the American obesity rate, yet are commonly devoid of any shred of detail. Craftsmanship has virtually disappeared, as homeowners and businesses shift their spending to colorful or technological baubles meant to counteract the blandness of their spaces. The architectural version of the “race to the bottom”?
Minneapolis’ mayor R. T. Rybak recently announced Green Homes North, an initiative to build 100 healthy green homes on vacant lots in tornado-ravaged north Minneapolis. This is an excellent opportunity to test the vision and capacity of designers and public officials. Are they daring and smart enough to design and build prototypes that balance design excellence, community support, sustainable technologies, contextual influences, responsible materials and processes, and the fortitude to last 100+ years in Minneapolis’ punishing climate, all without overly relying on gap subsidies and nostalgic housing types? Past examples aren’t terribly encouraging, but I’m optimistic a well placed investment in capital and intelligence will set an example towards a better future for this neighborhood and others that follow its example.
Think Blue Ray, not streaming.