November 2003 (v6 i3)
Doubting the moon landing since 1997
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Architects embrace retro, ‘old-school’ buildings
“Asbestos is back,” say nation’s top contractors
by Chanice Jan, Administrative Assistant

NEW YORK, NY — Retro kitsch, having long influenced music, clothing and interior design, has finally permeated the realm of the architectural world, as demonstrated by a large number of bizarre and puzzling blueprints being drafted nationwide. These avant-garde plans defy modern, blasé design conventions and promise to inject new life into a field whose style is often cramped by such things as safety codes and physics.

A prime example of architectural retro can be seen in a major project from industry giant Morgan and Meyer. The firm's plans for a recently-commissioned high-rise incorporate themes from architectural styles ranging from modern to archaic. Structural support for the 87-story office building is provided dually by standard steel girders and a series of flying buttresses reminiscent of Gothic architecture. Elevation drawings detail a façade composed of both minimalist glass panels and pine logs, a popular construction material in early American colonial times. Also notable is the absence of any kind of emergency exit whatsoever.

“The fire escape has been unquestioningly accepted as the norm for over eight decades,” says head draftsman Harold Raymond. “No one's dared to make a move like this until now. Our artistic team felt this was a wonderful flashback to the carefree 20's.”

So why has architectural retro taken such strong hold despite producing structures that are fundamentally unsound and aesthetically ridiculous?

“The reason for the immense success behind architectural retro is because it is truly the best of the best,” says Raymond. “Well, maybe it’s the best of the worst. Either way, it takes the most unforgettable elements of architectural design and throws them all together at once. How else can you build a house with the tried-and-true form of the pyramid, the reliability of concrete, the convenience of an attached two-door garage, and the nostalgia of plague-infested rodents scurrying within your walls? Plus, having secret, candlelit passageways is great fun for the kids—and they save you a bunch on your electric bill.”

The all-embracing nature of architectural retro has allowed for a wide variety of peculiar combinations, such as 4-foot moats surrounding downtown Manhattan skyscrapers, New-Age dome habitats sheathed in creeping ivy, Spanish-tiled roofs atop football stadiums, grocery stores with pagodas and legislative capitols painted in neon rainbow animal print.

As with any groundbreaking artistic movement, however, architectural retro has its detractors. Though receiving heavy criticism from engineers, city planners, and Better Home and Garden readers, perhaps the greatest hindrance to this stylistic movement is the fastidious consumer.

Vermont lawyer Martin Willers hired New York-based firm Franken and Heimer to design a vacation home for him. Not realizing he had chosen architects who were of the retro school, Willers was less than pleased with the results.

I consider myself an open-minded person,” says Willers. “And I appreciate the classics. I mean, I don't complain too much about having a carbon copy of an early-90's president in office, or professional ball players walking around dressed like it’s 1973. But a 5,000-square-foot house with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing is where I draw the line!”

Despite objections, architectural retro continues to stay strong, propelled by individualists who want the structures they live in to be reflections of their eclectic personal style. The movement has even found a supporter in rap mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who recently had the roof of his Los Angeles estate restructured into a Byzantine dome.

"Take that, Death Row Records,” says Combs. “I'm Taj Ma-ballin'."
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