Architect Mike Eliason explains why simpler (and dumber) makes better buildings.
Recently I was discussing the design of a new residential building in Toronto, where the building codes changed not too long ago to prohibit all-glass facades and limit openings. Every new building now has jogs, pushes and pulls, and colours to try and give it some variety; I suggested that architects should just go to Europe and see what they do with clean, well-proportioned simple boxes. It was a different aesthetic that people were just going to have to get used to, what Architect Bronwyn Barry hashtags as #BBB, or "Boxy But Beautiful.”
Simple is better for many reasons; that’s why I wrote In Praise of the Dumb Home a few years ago. Now Mike Eliason looks at the bigger picture and writes In Praise of Dumb Boxes. He notes that “ ‘dumb boxes’ are the least expensive, the least carbon intensive, the most resilient, and have some of the lowest operational costs compared to a more varied and intensive massing.” There are so many ways that dumb boxes are not so dumb:
Dumb Boxes are less expensive
Every time a building has to turn a corner, costs are added. New details are required, more flashing, more materials, more complicated roofing. Each move has a corresponding cost associated with it.
Dumb boxes are the least carbon intensive
The more jogs and bumps, the more surface area and the more material needed to cover it and to hold it up. This is why I wrote so much about 56 Leonard in New York, where they do everything they can to maximize jogs and surface area. I wrote:
If we are going to ever get a handle on our CO2, we are going to see a lot more tall urban buildings without big windows, without bumps and jogs. Perhaps we might even have to reassess our standards of beauty.
Dumb Boxes are more resilient
Dumb boxes that are under 6 stories can be manageable in long periods without power, whereas tall skyscrapers are problematic under the same conditions. And a neighborhood of dense, dumb boxes only increases that resilience.