Comment of the Day: The Origins of the FrankenTuscan Style

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE ORIGINS OF THE FRANKENTUSCAN STYLE “. . . It is an extremely unfortunate and yet pervasive fallacy to equate contemporary, non-kitschy architecture with splashy, risky design and poor quality construction done with non-durable materials. There are plenty of examples of understated, elegant, and yes, conventionally constructed and well-built modern design here in Houston. They include local firms such as Lake|Flato (designer of the new HEB) or Kirksey. It’s silly to lump all of modernism together, but depending on your definition of it, Modernism in one form or another has been extensively practiced all over the world ever since the Bauhaus school attempted to develop a formal pedagogy for it in the 1920′s. I *think* over 100 years and x-number of buildings later, we’ve figured out how to build it without leaks. Your second false assumption is that Marvy Finger builds in the Faux-traditional style because it’s ‘tried-and-true’ or ‘inexpensive.’ Ok, well maybe if you go faux all the way (as in crappy plaster cast stone facades) then it would be cheaper. But either way, I’d wager that Finger, who didn’t get to where he is by . . . losing money, is pitching his products at a very specific market segment. Namely, wealthy people and those with aspirations of even more wealth. In the United States it seems that modern architecture is associated with public buildings and some kind of suspicious, alien, and vaguely socialist agenda. Who wants their family, friends, or boss to think that they’re weird or some kind of communist? Hence, the best way to have your dwelling embody your conservative social stance and financial aspirations (or status) is to live in a nice replica of a Tuscan Pallazo or French chateau. Of course, this is absurd and impossible to pull off when you try to cram all the programming and functions of a multi-family apartment or condo building into it, so you usually end up with some kind of a hideous Frankenstein behemoth. Witness any Randall Davis project as an example. It’s alive… ALIVE!!!!” [JL, commenting on Comment of the Day: In Defense of the Same Old-Looking Stuff]

21 Comment

  • I wish I was smart enough to know wtf he said.

  • So much I don’t know about architectural history…

  • Lake Flato is based in San Antonio – not local.

  • World class rationalizations, kudos. Way to further trivialize greed and the abhorrent culture of conspicuous consumption. Who gives a ***t what people think? I’ll live as I please, judge not lest ye be judged, no doubt you probably posted this dreck care of your iphone.

  • Amen, brother/sister!

  • Cody: Sorry for the rant. But my main point was just that good modern architecture doesn’t have to be risky. If people choose not to live in a contemporary house/building, I think at least their decision should be an informed one.

  • To rsb320: You’re right. What I should’ve said was that the examples of well built modern architecture included local *works* by the mentioned architecture firms.

  • cm=corey: Yes, that was an attempt to rationalize people’s choices. If someone chooses faux Tuscan, more power to them, but it shouldn’t be based on incomplete information or misconceptions about the inherent risks of modern design.

  • I personally love all the modern buildings going up around Montrose. I’d rather live in one of them than the other ‘faux Tuscan’ buildings that also seem to be popping up.
    My only point previously was that if a dev is going to pony up several millions to buy land and build a building, I’d think (hope?) that they’ve done some research as to potential buyer/renter demand. So if buyers/renters want these things, so be it. To each their own I guess
    (I do find the design to be lazy though)

  • Reposted from the original thread:

    @ JL: Regarding your first criticism, that I am perceiving good architecture as inherently substandard, my earlier comment praised typical building materials for a set of qualities that most developers and contractors understand and are comfortable with. Some developers are more architecturally sophisticated and capable, but most are not; likewise, some architects are financially capable enough to be developers, but most are not.

    I’m not clear what your second point was. I wouldn’t consider anything that Marvy Finger has ever built to be “spectacular” architecture. Sure, he put a bit more money into his highrises to cater to a high-end market segment; but he’s also been building apartments for a long time, and most of them are nice enough but very forgettable in the grand scheme of things. Randall Davis, by comparison, revels in spectacle. I (and many others) tend to agree with you that the mish mash of styles and functions that he puts together can be grotesque, however…he learned a long time ago not to build too many units in a single project. He caters to an extremely narrow demographic which varies from one project to the next, and he has pulled off some spectacular successes over the years. He’s also had projects that went belly-up.

    I kind of feel like you’re suggesting or advocating for more projects like the new Montrose HEB or One Park Place. Such structures are easy on the eyes, but I don’t tend to think of them as anything special. They’re the consequence of a developer attempting to accomodate an affluent market segment with something that is very nice, yet still completely and totally inoffensive with plenty of resale value…not unlike like a top-of-the-line decked-out Lexus.

    (And I know that architect types hate to hear this, but while your creations may not be mass produced, y’all as design professionals are. Or at least, that’s how most developers see it. But not for your designs, they would’ve been somebody else’s designs…with the same budget. If the developer intends a spectacle, the developer will buy a spectacle.)

    And again, I’m not advocating anything. I’m just attempting to communicate an explanation for forgettable architecture.

  • Where the same conversations going on in the mid 1800’s during the so called neoclassical ere? All those faux Roman buildings in Washington DC.

  • Thank you, sorry that pointed comment wasn’t made towards anyone personally, more as a general statement. If on the off chance anyone took that personally, my fault entirely and a sincere apology. As much as I hate stucco, I do have a soft spot for humanity..

  • I’m with Cody on this. Houston developers – especially those in Montrose – don’t seem to be doing much research into resident demand. Faux-Tuscan may appeal to the West U set, but it doesn’t have much of a fan base among the bohemians of the ‘Trose. In fact, every time I look at Zillow, the only crap available is some Mediterrible townhome that’s been on the market since it was built five years prior. I personally enjoy the juxtaposition of well-done modern against classic architecture (frequently seen in the northeastern part of Montrose, where I live), but those homes are usually priced out of the range of the average buyer. Perhaps Montrose needs some tougher restrictions on permitted new-construction styles in a similar vein to the Heights’.

  • You wouldn’t have expected that pioneers on the plains would’ve built teepees, would you? In the same vein, developers aren’t building $700k townhomes for the indigenous bohemians of Montrose (whom cannot afford them and often do not want them or see them as an affront to their being); the townhomes are built for the West U set. You must come to terms with the geographic displacement of your people and the natural resources that once provided for your subsistence.

    Resistance is futile, and would only be an impetus for conflicted political outcomes, and co-opted movements that veer into misanthropic endeavors. Prepare yourselves, and move to Houston’s eastern hinterlands.

    To remain on your sacred ground, your only alternative is to go back to school and get your MBA, so that you can adapt to the West U man’s strange ways and speak their tongue. But I think that you should go, and be with your people.

  • There are “bohemians” out there who can afford it…a retroactive confabulated explanation for running people out of their neighborhood is exactly that.

  • Oh indigenous bohemians of Montrose you can remain here no further. Do not heed the enchanting call of the MBA. Prepare to go over and beyond the great I45/59 exchange. EaDo beckons you.

  • Interesting that Mr Niche equates income with uninformed taste. This may be shocking for him to learn, but there are in fact lots of people with MBAs and incomes who don’t aspire to living in West U or anything like it.

    That said: All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. Dangerous/crappy neighborhood becomes bohemian and popular. Higher income people decide they want to live somewhere bohemian and move in, driving out the people who made the neighborhood bohemian and interesting. Then everyone’s left wondering why the neighborhood isn’t so interesting anymore, and eyes real estate in the Bohemiam Hood 2.0. See: Montrose, Houston Heights, Dupont Circle, West Village, West Hollywood, Castro, Noe Valley, Alphabet City, South End, etc., etc., etc.

    The flip side is that some traces of the old persona of the neighborhood do remain. But if your goal is to live somewhere cutting edge, renting is really the best option.

  • I coined the term “Ugly-tecture” to describe the hideous spired monstrosity at Westheimer and Yupon–or anything touched by Randall Davis. By comparison the Texas Tuscan being erected to house the New Gentry is the perfect generic compliment the Sugarlandization of the River Oaks Shopping Center.

  • @MrNiche – the first wagon train left Montrose for Eastwood about 10 years ago… And you’re right–no place is “safe”. Next thing you know they’ll be building condos in Itchy Acres.

  • I’m waiting for the explosion of Rococo Googie myself.

  • @ John (another one): I do not “equate income with uninformed taste,” however it is worthwhile to point out that people with higher income are the typically the only ones that have the ability to realize uninformed taste in any highly visible or spectacular way. Also, many affluent people got that way by playing by society’s rules, doing what was expected of them, and not taking unnecessary financial, social, or aesthetic risks. They might have good taste, but not the gonads to venture from the herd and embrace it.