American Architectural Styles: An Introduction
Not until after World War II did America see another national building boom, by which time automobile suburbs, modern-era housing and office towers were the rule. America’s modern era of functionalism and a general aversion to historic references dominated the built environment from the 1940s through the 1980s. The familiar “glass box” office tower and ubiquitous suburban ranch house are still powerful symbols of this anti-stylistic era when “form followed function”. Changes were brewing by the 1970s, however, leading America to react against modern architecture and planning practices. Historic styles became gradually popular once again, coinciding with the now-booming historic preservation movement. Colonial Revival elements adorned otherwise modern ranch houses, and by the 1990s a vague “postmodern era” was in full swing.
Postmodern architecture is generally characterized by an unrelated and exaggerated use of historical styles, or imitatated reproductions of older buildings. The current rise of postmodern historicism has coincided with a revived interest in traditional town planning practices known as “neotraditional” development, or more generally, the New Urbanism. A return to city centers in high-rise, mixed-used lofts and condos is now occuring, and hundreds of neotraditional neighborhoods are under construction or are already completed, with designs that variously emphasize walking, mass transit, mixed uses, community livability, public space, and — hopefully — affordability. What will be America’s next major cultural interest, and how will the built environment reflect that interest?