Img_9377No, no, I´m not talking about haunted houses. I´m referring to what author Alain de Botton says in his book The architecture of happiness. According to him, there is a language buildings and objects speak when we look at them, and our fondness or distaste of them comes from the relationship we establish between those buildings and human beings whom we like or do not like. In other words, they remind us of people we´ve encountered in our life.

That happened to me when I visited Brasília, the capital of Brazil, for the first time. I was very excited I was going to see the buildings I knew housed the big decisions in this country.The Congress, the Senate, the Alvorada palace. I was going to actually be there and experience the work of architect Oscar Niemeyer, the man who designed that city, built in the 1960´s, during the government of President Juscelino Kubitschek.I was finally going to have a glimpse of what these two men thought Brazil should look and be like.

I was very disappointed when I got there. As I tried to connect with the buildings, they didn´t even try to connect with me. They were mute. Concrete giants enclosed within themselves.

That´s when I began realizing what de Botton says. Those buildings, and Brasília as a whole, for the landscape is uniform, reminded me of what I find most obnoxious in certain people, especially when they are powerful: selfishness, lack of empathy and that attitute of owning the world. In a paradox, I felt suffocated in a place where empty spaces are abundant. There are no sidewalks, there are almost no trees ( in a country full of trees), the air is dry to the point of gasping. The only positive aspect of Brasília, for me, is the people: kind, friendly, warm. And that takes me to another realization about my country.

For many decades now, Brazil has been trying to be modern, developed, respected. And in some ways we´re reaching that. But the concept of modern in the minds of our past leaders (and some present ones, too) was linked to the idea of rupturing with the past at any cost. For thecountry of the future, anything that resembled our colonial past had to go.Wood, brick, clay, intricate shapes, bright colors either resembled Europe, or the jungle, or the slave quarters. In the anxiety of finding a face in the mirror that could match the idea of new, they chose concrete. Cold, mute concrete. Had they looked more closely, they´d have seen that´s not the Brazilian face. The Brazilian face is every face. And that´s where novelty is: in diversity. Instead of wasting time and money trying to build huge concrete structures to show up to the world, they should have tried to build a fair society first.



You think that look is new? I saw it in the ’80s


Predicting trends makes news. Business, fashion, design, dog breeding – you name it, and it has a trend. Trends also make you feel old if you see them come and go, and then come again. I’m sure I’ve seen what today’s prescient design pundits are predicating is new several times already. I’m confused when I pursue magazines. I don’t know whether I’m looking at home design magazines from our century or the 1950s. Been there, done that. The people buying these magazines must be born after 1985 as everyone else (who still has a memory) would think déjà vu, not new.

The most obvious repeating interior design trend is a traditional look enlivened with modern art or a few carefully chosen pieces of contemporary furniture. This approach appeared first in the 1960s and was associated with the decorators Billy Baldwin and Albert Hadley. What design writers neglect to point out when they write about this look and predict “a new, young take on traditional,” or whatever breathless clichés they use, is that it’s only interesting when the traditional pieces are good and the contemporary even better. Otherwise, both genres appear ungainly when together. Boring traditional, mixed with boring contemporary creates . you get the idea.

The trend of high-concept contemporary architecture surfaces once a decade. This ranges from pristine iterations of houses and condos that look like Richard Meier or Hugh Jacobson designed them, to more whimsical Frank Lloyd Wright offspring with odd angles, bright colours and lots of natural materials. You see these updated Wright clones in Aspen, and other places where people talk about being environmentalists, and build sensitive 25,000-square-foot houses that are supposed to blend into nature. I have nothing against big houses, but faux environmentalists are annoying.

The interiors of architecturally pure houses and condos are often severe. They usually feature difficult art, a.k.a. badges of superior intellect, and uncomfortable furniture. This kind of art and furniture is bought by the self-identified aesthetically fearless who see themselves akin to those who first championed the Impressionists. I’ve noticed this trend advertised with copy that speaks about “a new seriousness” and “curating your life as you decorate.” Original architecture and art should be encouraged, but the caution about the Emperor’s new clothes must always be applied.

Neutral is not a trend in 2011. It needs a rest for a few years before it can be novel again. That said, I did see a reference to it -the editor thought up the brilliant idea of featuring the “new” grey and “new” beige. It looked like the old neutrals to me, but then I recall the first tone-on-tone rooms from the 1960s. Perhaps my eyesight is failing and I’m missing a breakthrough in colour strategy.

The most pervasive trend this year is rampant eclecticism. The intensely idiosyncratic mixing of periods and odd objects can be traced back to the 1930s to decorators Rose Cummings and Tony Duquette. They had eccentric, wonderful taste, not to mention rooms with superb proportions in which to display their possessions. The current Architectural Digest cover is a perfect example of a failed attempt in this category. It’s a large, undistinguished New York apartment that I assume is fairly new. It looks expensive; this likely makes it a success for its owners. The room blends the brazenly flashy with disingenuous reproductions. It’s the kind of style design writers love because they can apply it to any agglomeration and claim it’s fabulous.

The truly enduring trend in interior design, one you never see on a magazine cover, is “desperation to be admired for the way you live.” Many are insecure about how they decorate and hence want what others want. There are very few who are trendy if, in the best possible sense of the word, they live in an original manner or have a unique, erudite perspective. When you look back on those in the past century who were this kind of trendsetter, they had ideals about how a person should live and build. The way they furnished their houses and condos was an outcome, not an end in itself. Now, it’s the other way around. People furnish a home and assume a sophisticated life comes with it. The result is they end up living in someone else’s idea of chic. Put that headline on a magazine cover.


The Home Depot Foundationannounced the grantees of a new round of funding for their Partners in Sustainable Building (PSB) program last week.  More than 135 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across 42 states will receive grant money to help pay for sustainable homes.  Habitat will receive $3,000 for each home that is Energy Star certified, and $5,000 each for higher green home certifications.

The PSB program was launched by The Home Depot Foundation in 2009, and has already helped fund over 1,500 Habitat homes nationwide.   It is expected that this year’s grantees will build over 2,400 homes through the program.

“We believe that healthy homes are the building blocks for thriving, affordable and environmentally sound communities,” said Kelly Caffarelli, president of The Home Depot Foundation. “Through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity, we are focused on bringing the practical financial and health benefits of green building and maintenance to families of modest incomes. By showing that green building and efficient maintenance of a home can truly keep more money in a family’s wallet, we also hope this effort has a ripple effect on all homeowners nationwide.”

The homes save their residents money every month by drastically reducing energy costs.  Here are just a few examples of the savings:

  • One PSB homeowner in Rushford, Minnesota reported that her heating bill averaged only $2.50 per day during January.
  • In Fort Bend, a Texas homeowner who recently moved from his mobile home into a PSB home reported energy savings of $500 a month.
  • After months of 100+ degree temperatures, a homeowner in Grayson County, Texas reported that her highest electric bill was only $100.
  • In St. Louis, Missouri a homeowner saved so much in utility bills that she was able to purchase everything her children needed for the new school year, an annual expense she could not previously afford.

For Habitat, the partnership continues its commitment to quality, energy efficient housing for low-income families.  “Our collaboration with The Home Depot Foundation is providing Habitat affiliates with the resources to continue building energy-efficient homes in neighborhoods throughout the country,” said Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity International.   “At the end of our $30 million five-year effort, 5,000 families will have benefited from this partnership.”

Photo courtesy of The Home Depot Foundation.

Source: by Dawn Killough

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