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3:41 p.m. - Wednesday, Nov. 05, 2003
Architectural Angst

But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses. Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon. ... [The] houses were comic, but he didn't laugh. Their desire to startle was so eager and guileless. It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the result of that are. But it is easy to sigh. Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.

Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust

Reading that made me think of the various housing developments around me, the old and the new. In the older one (think late 1970s) there is a house that seems to be trying to look like a miniature castle in stone, with a rounded, crenellated excrescence on one side, although otherwise it's your typical suburban split-level. I used to hate that house. Used to, until they built the B*rrington Ridge development.

In the B*rrington Ridge development, all the houses are the same, all one of perhaps three floor plans, all the same blank windowless wall, all the same snout-house attached garages, all the same beige vinyl siding, all the same square yards. It looks like a prison to me. I get almost frantic when I drive through there, wondering who ARE these people? who ARE these people, who willingly shut themselves up in there? You know they are not allowed to paint their houses a different color, or to plant a tree of a type not approved by the homeowners' association, or to plant a flower less than 6.5 inches from the sidewalk. And people are CLAMORING to get in there. Who ARE they? Who the f*ck ARE these people?

B*rrington Ridge makes me look with fond nostalgia at that hideous split-level castle. At least the castle tries to be different. It is different: ghastly, but different. It's the monstrous result of the yearning for beauty and romance that Nathaniel West speaks of. It seems to me that H.L. Mencken somewhere or another posited a uniquely American yearning for the ugly. I think of that whenever I go by B*rrington Ridge. And now we may as well posit a yearning -- uniquely American, I suspect -- for imprisonment. Shut us up in beige, give us three snout-house plans to choose from, shield us from our neighbors, protect us from wanton flowers.

Featureless, anonymous, pre-manufactured, interchangeable developments like B*rrington Ridge are springing up all over the place. Who ARE these people???


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