In defense, in celebration, of replication.
Why does architecture, both in current design trends and the big picture urban environment, look the way it does? This is a question we’ve been asking ourselves at Baran Studio. Some of our recent blog posts have delved into this question, such as the discussion in Architecture and Obedience which included a critique of design review in relation to freedom of expression. Another example is the text from the post Looking Beyond Image which questioned the unexplained propagation of Spanish style boxes in the urban landscape. And then architectural aesthetics are always a main topic discussion when a project goes before a public board or public commission. While my thoughts below focus mostly on our residential ‘single family’ projects, the question of aesthetics and style does extend into multifamily, commercial, and other project types, but that is a post for another day.
I can only guess that the reason the question “why does this look the way it does” comes up so often because the work we do is somewhat radical. Perhaps we are giving ‘the world’ something it doesn’t expect. When encountering a Baran Studio project in the urban residential landscape, it is a change of pace, it does look different than its neighbors. Yet, behind what seems like unique building forms and willful design choices, there are the same lovely and useful spaces for living, working, and spending time that are valued in current single family homes. And then comes the kicker, when a client or owner finds that they can have both innovative design and quality spaces (usually from visiting a property on the market or seeing our work in the local media) the question is almost always asked – “I love that previous project so much, can you just give me the same design on this new property?”
I have observed that the funny thing is, the answer is no, but also yes. Our first instinct is to decline such a request, part of that radical drive to innovate mentioned above. Design models are made, sketches are sketched, and often something new is proposed. We push and pull the design in certain directions…. and then matching forces of budget, durability, and resistance from the public sphere mold the project to the final result. Our process varies with each project, yet when viewed together there is a unified result to this design work. Just enough for what might be seen as a Baran Studio style. This portfolio is valuable, and it only makes sense to replicate, and copy, this design work.
A Baran Studio Style?
Examples of the replication of architectural features, styles, and exact buildings is an age old custom. Right here in our own backyard you can’t walk for long without noticing two, three, and even more identical buildings in a row, often between 50 and 100 years old. The most famous example may be the famous Full House home off Alamo Square, one of the countless ‘painted ladies’ of San Francisco.
Tract Homes of Another Era
Other examples abound, even when age, questionable alterations, and general neglect have taken their toll.
Can’t you provide just a little more relation to the context?
A more modern example is the resurgent popularity and value of homes in Eichler neighborhoods and other less famous Mid-century subdivisions. I feel this interest is attributable to the idea that people value the design – both the unified aesthetic and the useful functional spaces established by the designers of those projects. Recently, there has been buzz about brand new ‘Eichler’ homes based on original plans, licensed from the legacy firms and archives which hold the copyright, which is an amazing story in its own right. These new homes will look like the classic Eichlers, and even have a certificate of authenticity issued with each sale, but will have modern features like a powder room off the main living spaces – something rare 50 years ago but almost never missing from a recent Baran Studio residential project.
Are Twins and Triplets the result of in-vitro development?
It is unlikely that Baran Studio will be asked to provide architecture for huge tracts of low density single family homes like Joseph Eichler, but our design work has propagated through Oakland and neighboring cities quite well over the years – our entitlement design work for the City Ventures Station House development might be the closest we have come so far. But while our urban environment might not have room for many more developments that large, projects which include the addition of pairs, triplets, and small subdivisions of 6 or 10, or more units is very much alive and well.
Copies and adaptations maintain and reinforce quality building layouts and reduce design costs for the same reason they were used for historic Victorian tract developments and now historic modern subdivisions. Replicated material palates and detailing provide built-in value engineering to owners and builders in order to minimize construction budgets and maximize return. Finally, the result is a recognizable design product that owners, developers, and residents are looking for.
Cheaper by the Half Dozen
Why Have Just One?
As with all creative expression, it is hard just to ‘play the hits’ without alteration. But if you went to a Stones show and they only played experimental white noise rather than Satisfaction, it would be hard to be satisfied.
The hits are the hits for a good reason, they work. They are elements of inspired design paired with hours and hours of effort to make sure the inspiration functions smoothly, and the end result is almost proven to work. It isn’t a bad thing to copy, in fact, it is the right thing to do, right down to unbeatable historic precedent. While not intended in the term, it is just good practice to Copy Right.