Microblog #75: Why don’t they “build them like they used to?”

New homes don’t always get the same love as their older counterparts. Here’s why our nostalgia might be misguided.

We’re all guilty of it. It’s natural to admire a stately, well-preserved home built before our lifetime and wonder why builders can’t just replicate the designs and materials today. Why does everything now seem ticky-tacky, as Malvina Reynolds famously pondered? Indeed, why don’t they build them like they used to?

According Kate Wagner, architecture critic and author of the viral blog “McMansion Hell,” we first need to understand some historical context. A hundred years ago, labor was much cheaper, certain “classic” materials like limestone blocks were far more plentiful, and different family lifestyles required different home layouts.

Today, shifts in material technology, building codes, and accessibility requirements actually mean that new homes—when done right—are more durable, more safe, and more inclusive than those of yesteryear.

Finally, she argues that architecture has slowly shifted its cultural focus away from vernacular residences to focus instead on homes for the ultra-wealthy and other large projects.

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