Less and More (more or less)

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We’ve just completed construction drawings on a new home to be built by Mansour and Kathy Moussavian in Los Altos, developers for whom we’ve worked on over half a dozen projects. Unusually for our practice and for our collaboration with the Moussavians, the home is in a ‘modern’ style. No Tuscan columns or Colonial trim on this one!

We often tell prospective clients that we were trained, as almost all architects have been since the 1940’s, to work in a modern style as exemplified by Louis Sullivan’s famous principle: “Form Follows Function” , Frank Lloyd Wright’s response “form and function should be one” and Mies Van Der Rohe’s dictum “Less is More”. Architects steeped in these principals, and following in the steps of the modern masters like Sullivan, Wright, Corbusier and Rohe have generally favored rectilinear design, flat roofs, cleanly articulated (separated) elements, with clear logical spaces designed for their function. Ornament was unique to the building, or stripped away entirely.

Of course, its long been clear that one could design a wonderfully functional building in a shell that was based on classic Roman, or Greek, or Gothic, or traditional European or Oriental style…which is what many of our clients are interested in. However, it is also quite possible – some would say quite common — to design a horribly malfunctioning building clothed in a modern looking façade. It’s also been said, by Post-Modernist architect Robert Venturi, that “Less is a bore”.

Most of our work for the last twenty years has been in some kind of identifiable historic style. To a certain extent it is a matter of fashion, in the meaning of the French ‘la mode’, the fashion of the day. I often think that literature like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes Under the Tuscan Sun had something to do with the styles people have wanted for the last twenty years. The fashion that people are comfortable with seems to be swinging back to ‘modern’ (or ‘contemporary’ to distinguish it from the modern styles produced earlier in the twentieth century).

Contemporary design has the potential for being less expensive, with it’s removal of excess trim, fussy details, and complicated roof lines. It can also be quite peaceful and charming; asymmetrical balance is often emphasized rather than strict symmetry. Finish materials are used in ways which emphasize their natural beauty. Clarity of line and of the relationship of the building elements to each other is important.

Our new project will serve a large multiple generation family with grace and comfort, linking the living spaces easily to shaded and sunny outdoor spaces. It’s shell will be an energy efficient, durable, and comfortable backdrop for a family’s life.

3D Model of Exterior

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