Could Less Become More Again?

Architectural historian Jane Merkel writes in the New York Times about how immediately after World War II, "it was a time of common sense and a belief that less truly could be more. During the Depression and the war, Americans had learned to live with less, and that restraint, in combination with the postwar confidence in the future, made small, efficient housing positively stylish."

Optimism in architecture: Ralph Rapson's Case Study House 4

All of the great architects were designing smaller spaces; Frank Lloyd Wright was building Usonian houses, sized and priced for mass production; Mies Van Der Rohe, popularizer of the phrase "less is more" was building smaller apartments in Chicago.

And it wasn't just the high-end architects; in the suburbs, Bill Levitt were mass-producing 750 square foot houses "with a living room, kitchen/dining area, two small bedrooms, a bathroom and an unfinished "expansion attic"

Merkel makes a case for a return to "less is more"-


In an era of economic austerity and a seemingly permanent energy crisis, can "less is more" become popular again?

Sadly, many of the small, architect-designed houses of the postwar period have been demolished to make way for McMansions. But those that remain, and those we know about from blueprints and photographs, have much to teach us -- about the efficient use of space for storage, integrated indoor and outdoor space and the way careful design can facilitate natural ventilation. When you think about how many rooms you actually use, it seems obvious that various ideas from that optimistic era could make the next decade a happier, saner one than the overstuffed times we've just lived through.

One could express surprise at the suburban bias to the article, given that it is in the New York Times, a newspaper from a city where most of the population lives in spaces smaller than a Levittown house. One might also point out the real math of why housing in America got so big: cheap land + cheap energy + cheap materials. Take any one of those away and you have smaller houses, closer together.

More in the New York Times

Tags: Less Is More | Living With Less