Architecture We Love 3: Corrugated Metal

Paleo Retiree writes:

Among the many shortcomings of semi-official discussions of architecture:

  • An overemphasis on architects, and particularly on star architects (aka “starchitects”). What the starchitects create represents less than 1% of the built environment. The rest of  building-and-urbanism is created by no-names — contractors, developers, non-legendary architects, even (gadzooks) everyday people … Why is this work so totally overlooked by those who Lead the Discussion? Since it’s what most of our experience of “architecture” consists of, it’s a terrible oversight. It’s as though the Music Discussion recognized nothing but conservatory-style highbrow music as “real music”; or the Movies Discussion focused only on auteur-type feature films from arthouse directors; or the Food Discussion failed completely to take folk food, fast food, and home cooking into account. (Hard to believe now — what with the omnipresence of good, populist food magazines, blogs and food shows in our lives — but it wasn’t so long ago that the foodie world took note only of “fine dining,” preferably à la française. Thank god that particular snobbery has been overcome! And I say this as someone who enjoys the occasional adventure in fine dining.) But a similar kind of snobbery still prevails where architecture-and-urbanism goes. Architecture journalists and critics ought to be — IMHO, of course — observing, discussing and critiquing/appreciating minimalls, casinos, parking structures, schools, hotels, condo developments, alleyways, two-family-homes, plazas, playgrounds, office campuses, porches, barns, neighborhoods, garages, etc.
  • An underemphasis on minor and sideways pleasures. With its neurotic fetishism of the starchitecture world and its obsessive fixation on genius-creators, the architecture establishment does a massive injustice to the many potential satisfactions and delights a fan has in store if he/she just opens his/her eyes. (If your eyes are open, the entire built world — your house, your daily walk, your place of work — becomes a playground/museum of architecture.) A nicely-placed park bench … A beautifully-recessed window … A parking lot that offers some shade, and that doesn’t wreck the neighborhood it serves … A lobby that’s both welcoming and helpful … A stretch of road that’s a reliable pleasure to drive along … A corner of a park where people enjoy eating lunch on a sunny day … Materials, too. Back at my previous place of blogging, for instance, I offered an appreciation (or two) of the pleasures of traditional brick. Why deny oneself — or fail to take note of — such day-to-day beauties? I can’t imagine an architecture-appreciation life spent waiting around for the next act of earthshaking mischief by the usual handful of certified geniuses. But maybe that’s me.

A long-winded windup to my modest topic today: the pleasures of corrugated iron. I don’t know about you, but I often love walks and drives through industrial areas. In my own case, especially through small-scale industrial areas, and particularly through neighborhoods that mix small-scale industry and residential buildings. (What can I say? I’m a “smaller is usually better,” decentralization-lovin’ kinda guy. Not much I can do about that.) The combo of the chaotic and the structured … The variety of scales and building-types … The complete lack of prissiness … The inventiveness, craftsmanship and resourcefulness on display … Lordy, it can really get my eyes and brain (and, OK, my heart) dancin’.

Something that often stops me in my tracks in these quarters is corrugated iron — whether a wall of it or an entire building made of it.

Eye-pleasing textures … Geometry of a non-fussed-over, unself-conscious kind … Shadows and light of a non-harsh, non-stark kind … A material that wears “time” and “usage” with a lot of eloquence … Space, shelter and usefulness defined in such refreshingly direct ways … Taking note of such a structure can be like experiencing a sonata.

But one might worry: Was anything deliberately “aesthetic” intended? My response: Does it really matter all that much? Like a random YouTube video, or diner food, or street fashions, or a pattern of damp on a plaster wall, the pleasure — and even the style — is there to enjoy once we give ourselves permission to do so.

Not to step on The Question Lady’s toes, but I often find myself wondering: While the music, movies, visual-culture and food worlds have been showing a lot of openness to non-snob work for some time now, the Architecture Discussion remains stuck back in 1950, almost totally under the control of genius-worshipping editors, professors and critics. Why should it be the last of the cultureworlds to open up to the broader world around us? Hunches?

Previously in this series.

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Photography, The Good Life. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Architecture We Love 3: Corrugated Metal

  1. Maule Driver says:

    Having recently clad the exterior wall of an internal room in corrugated steel, this catches my fancy. I’ve found that the truly sublime pleasure in anonymous design and construction is DIY. Designing and building a table, a bed, or a deck is personally rewarding and deeply satisfying. While sharing Paleo’s appreciation of the anonymous, small scale and unpretentious, I have to admit that DIY it has only deepened my appreciation for the stars and thought leaders in the field.


  2. Scott says:

    I think that’s tin. If it’s fixing to jump up as a thing for you city folk, I’m going in the barn demo business, stat. Scotty’s Pre-Aged Artisanal Tin.


  3. dearieme says:

    Australian suburbs are usually tin-roofed: very handsome they can be, too.


  4. Maule Driver says:

    I think the corrugated steel part of industrial chic played out in the early 80s…

    (advanced apologies for 12 sec commercial but the payoff comes quickly afterwards)


  5. Sir Barken Hyena says:

    “If your eyes are open, the entire built world — your house, your daily walk, your place of work — becomes a playground/museum of architecture.”

    I really like that. The pleasures are there but not where you expect. My town Phoenix is famous for what it doesn’t have in the way of the built environment. Yet…here and there are old irrigation ditches left unimproved by concrete that ramble through old neighborhoods and back alleys, lined with stately old cottonwood trees and gurgling water. But you gotta look for them!


  6. Fenster says:

    Why is architecture the holdout? Maybe because the process of awarding a commission for a starchitect is so unnatural, time consuming and expensive. Those with the money to do so expect a return on their investment, prestige-wise.


  7. Pingback: Architecture We Love 4: Brick | Uncouth Reflections

  8. Pingback: Nevada City and Architectural Theory | Uncouth Reflections

  9. Pingback: Architecture Du Jour | Uncouth Reflections

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