PoMo Suburbia: slide the minivan beside the loading dock

Want that SoHo post-industrial feel, but just don't want to go to the bother of moving to NYC? Are you craving some exposed brick, metal sheathing and iron girderwork, but still want to be close to the new Sam's Club? Don't want to have to walk past a wino to pick up your latte? loftdevelopment.jpgWell, the Iron Works Lofts may be for you. Too bad they're in a suburban development thirty minutes outside Denver. As the architects tell us: "Iron Works Lofts brings the excitement, flexibility and vitality of contemporary urban loft living into a single family detached home context. "

Mmmm. Kay.

Writing in Metropolis, Karrie Jacobs discusses how abruptly the idealized world of design can meet the realities of commercial development. Lofts have traditionally represented the repurposing of a space, the gradual revitalization of a building and a neighbourhood. These social and cultural values can't really be reflected in new suburban development - which leaves a disquieting feeling when you see buildings like these in such a idiosyncratic setting.

Recently I caught up with Dean Thedos, self-described "head of crazy-idea development" for Cornerstone Homes. He's the brains behind Ironworks Lofts. He says the goal was to make a less "exclusionary" version of the urban loft. The loft, he says, "has been in locations that have been fairly inhospitable except to a small segment of the population." He's talking about cities.

"It's hard to go shopping for groceries," Thedos argues. "It's hard to have friends visit and park their cars. You make a lot of trade-offs. Why can't we evolve this into a form that's more accessible? Let's morph it into something that anybody who wants to can live in and not have to trade off their garage and fenceable yard in a location where shopping is proximate and there are multiple bedrooms for children." ...

The lesson here is that when you argue for stylistic change and that change eventually comes, it turns out that style is beside the point. The New Urbanists, for example, used bungalow style to sell their antisprawl principles. As a result the bungalow has become popular among conventional developers, who somehow missed the part about principle. Likewise, as commercial builders embrace a loft aesthetic, the fact that lofts were a way of reviving disused urban neighborhoods falls by the wayside. So here's a tip from the Uncool Hunter's Manual: the point where style is pried loose from any semblance of meaning is a good place to seek out the uncool.

And you know this is all the fault of thirtysomething. All those ferns, exposed ducts and brick walls.

(look here for more Karrie Jacobs articles on urban design)