The World's Architecture: An Uninspiring Identity? (NPR)

All Things Considered , January 31, 2007 · Philosopher Alain de Botton bemoans the way much of the architecture in the world looks the same, wherever one goes.
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Just what the world needs: Another Moaning Philosopher ; )
A professed "lover of architecture", he goes on to lambaste the ideals of the "International Style". The significance of the local details of vernacular is what he enjoys, and bland office blocks bore him wherever he goes. I sympathize, but another thing I find interesting about architecture, or rather vernacular architecture, in addition to its local articulation, is precisely the *sameness* of buildings around the world.
After a site visit, I got my lunch at the new local Vietnamese Pho shop yesterday (#26 Seafood Soup) and my eye was drawn by a painting at the back of an urban scene. Simple two-storey rectangles of similar size, with simple transverse gables and packed closely together formed a network of 'streets', though very narrow by North American standards (We'd call them "lanes"). Most of them had one storey additions all the way across the 'backs' with shed roofs over them. A couple with conical straw hats sat squatting on the ground working on something behind one of the buildings. Because they were so tightly packed, most buildings had parapets at the gable ends. Windows were always taller than they were wide.
While I waited for my pho, I pondered the question of how such 'significant' cultural differences between the place painted and the place where I stood could fail to yield buildings that were substantially different in type. Toronto's first layer of buildings was basically this type, and while a few remain, their outline can be seen on the side walls of newer, larger buildings that have outlived them.
A similar thought had occurred to me while watching Michael Palin's documentary of his trip around the world. As he took a train north out of China into Mongolia, the architecture became ***eerily*** familiar. He could have been almost anywhere at 43 degrees latitude....including Toronto.
I find that transcendence strangely comforting.
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MichaelB
www.michaelbulatovich.ca
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