THE FRONT PORCH

Have you ever wondered what happened to the sense of community we had in our neighborhoods? Do you remember the feelings that were evoked in a time when you could sit on your front porch and see the entire neighborhood? Where the kids would play in the street, and when you could hear from down the block a mother call out “car!” and the children would all step on to the side of the road and wave as the vehicle passed by.  Do you remember when you would invite your neighbors over on a cool summer evening and sit out on the front porch together enjoying a beverage?

I believe we have put so much emphasis lately on sustainability and being environmentally friendly with the systems and materials we are using, but in the process, we have lost focus on the community aspect. What if we cared for our neighbors and the communities we lived in? I believe we have stopped caring, and I think I know when that point was… it was when we traded our front porch for a private back patio.

So what do we do now? We spend our time in our own individual fenced-in yards, with our own personal families, and we occasionally shout across the street to say “Hi” to our neighbors. Builders began to create false porches as a way to create the illusion of community so that we may appear welcoming to those around us. In all reality, how often do we use that little four foot deep porch tacked onto the front of our dream homes covered in vinyl siding? I would venture a guess that we don’t do much on it, that is except for the few minutes we might greet a stranger when they come to knock on our door.

So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Does adding an extra two feet to the slab we pour in front of our homes count as getting back the front pouch we lost? Does an extra two or three feet instantly generate a sense of community, or does it create more impervious surfaces in the world and wasted space we never use? I don’t think just adding a few more feet will create any real change. We as architects have the ability to impact and change the way individuals engage the built environment. We can educate our clients and we can help them to understand what they are buying into when they select model homes and what they thought was the “American dream” of white picket fences and those two cars in the drive way. How much longer can that way of life be sustained? I, for one, would be happy to trade the car for a bike, and the large home for a modest walk up. I know that this is only my perspective and I don’t have a family to raise or any of those concerns, I am simply a young adult alone in the city that can make the statements because these are simply my reflections on the future I can see ahead.

So what has to change to make that all possible? How do we begin to create environments that cater to the public? What if we began creating communities and neighborhoods again that allowed us to walk to our destination, or get on our bike and ride to a friend’s place or the local market? What happens when we stop complaining about the price of gas and start to buy into a sustainable public transportation system that could run efficiently? When will we begin creating spaces that promote mixed use on a regular basis, environments that aren’t restrictive in zoning, and communities that encourage growth? I can see the glimmers of hope on the horizon and the sparks of the ideas taking hold and it leaves me excited for the future, but I hope to see more of this continue.

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4 thoughts on “THE FRONT PORCH

  1. Hey Nick!

    First time listener, first time caller ;D

    You’ve done an admirable job with your portfolio and this site!
    It’s tidy, easy to navigate, and brief. Well done.

    Congratulations also on having your article published on ArchDaily!

    I’m intrigued by some of the subject matter of your blogging (longing for/creating a deeper sense of community, transitioning between academic and professional architecture). Its apparent that you spend time carefully thinking about these issues and how they relate to you and the world you hope to help design, build & live in.

    Reading some of your comments I am reminded of Greg Sheldon, professor at UMKC and Architect at BNIM. To paraphrase, “Architects know a little about a lot. Their knowledge is more often shallow and wide, than deep and narrow(focused)”.

    As you hit on some of the bigger issues that impact designers (suburban sprawl, sustainability, social responsibility, etc.) I am really intrigued! But at the same time, I’m dissapointed not to see you quoting (or atleast tipping your hat towards) some of the great minds that have been pondering these very issues and framing our shared academic experience.

    Michael Kimmelman, the former art critic that replaced Nicolai Ouroussoff as architectural critic for the New York Times, describes his interests as having been “…in how we live, in how buildings actually work, in city planning, public policy, neighborhoods, communities and characters, in architecture as a complex and contradictory discipline, a true generalist’s profession and synthetic art.”

    When Kimmelman was hired, some in the academic world announced that “architectural criticism has died”, but after reading what you (and some of our classmates) have had to say in blogs, theses, or published work in recent months I wonder if architectural criticism is not just undergoing a transition? What do you think?

    Do you consider yourself a kind of architectural critic? Is it something that is becoming less and less valued by our generation of designers/architects? how does elevated discussion about the issues of design/architecture impact the way that buildings/neighborhoods/communities actually work?

    Hope all is well & keep up the good work!

    • Thank you very much for your praise, Branden. I have been quite busy and hadn’t put much on here lately and the front porch has been on my mind a lot and what it represents and embodies. I have been cutting my teeth on these bigger front porch additions and then I look at what so many suburban homes have and it is disappointing.

      In regards to your comment on architectural criticism, I don’t believe it has passed. I believe I would agree with you as it is in a state of transition much the same that our profession is. I personally don’t tend to quote others, just because it isn’t as fresh in my mind, although I have been heavily influenced by them through schooling, but this is simply an outlet for me on my thoughts. The posts and writings will continue to develop as time moves on but for now they are thoughts finally put to paper.

      I do hope you are doing well, and I am sure to keep these posts coming. I have a few more planned right now and they tend to focus on sustainability and where things are moving in that area.

    • That is a great article and one of the topics I intend to touch upon within the next few months. I particularly enjoyed the quote that predates this current conversation on the topic. Once again showing that our current problem in urban design was pointed out previously and is still being pointed out while our cities are being destroyed at the requirement of parking. Issues of zoning and code compliance and everything that factors into having these island buildings which aren’t surrounded by water but these vast parking lots. Parking lots which are designed for holiday volume shoppers, and have created issues with run off and drainage from so much impervious paving. Imagine if even one of these malls would opt for permeable paving system, how much more attractive the place would be? I think this subject might have to move to my next topic of conversation at the rate I am going I could be half way there. haha. I will have to let you know the next time I am down in Springfield so we can grab a beer, I am sure there are many more conversations to have.

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