The lasting beauty of a house resides, in large part, in the expressiveness of its materials. The honesty of its textures and its natural imperfections are an authentic treasure that gets better with time. Like the patina that develops over copper -- which starts shiny and gradually dulls and then darkens and, with each passing rain and element in the air, oxidizes into brilliant green -- each house goes through a life cycle. The love for material both new and old is what gives a house its soul.
When a design is pure and clean, the simplest of gestures and manipulations are what gives a design its beauty. It might be the shape of a sharp geometry, the clever positioning of a window, the color of a particular surface in natural light or the repetition of a pattern that provides the desired look.
Regardless of style, whether considering a Neoclassical villa or a contemporary urban building, the considerations of appropriate and lasting materials is the same. The bottom line is better materials make for better buildings.
Commission an architect to do drawing for a house for example, and the computer-aided drawings can be done relatively quickly. Today it seems that any building can be built much quicker than they were before in part to the advancement of construction techniques and new materials. The materials have also gone through a metamorphosis, and brackets and beams that were once carved by hand are now extruded by machinery and installed in a matter of minutes.
Drive by any shopping plaza or city center and you will see plenty of new buildings that harken to an architecture of a previous time, some that may be familiar to your hometown or another architecture that is altogether different. The buildings get done in record time, a few years pass and you see scaffolding around them in the name of maintenance. Upon closer inspection, some of the architectural details that you thought were stone or wood show cracks and peeling paint that reveal what lies underneath, which is some form of molded Styrofoam or plastic.
How are we to create architecture that lasts and contribute to our history when in reality, they are nothing but paper-thin structures not unlike a stage set to give the feeling of somewhere or some city you like but not built to withstand a decade, and often not a strong storm. Take, for example, an old and neglected city like Havana. Do you think that any of its now decaying structures would have survived, if less than the best and appropriate materials of the time had been used?
Understanding that most decisions in building today are based on budgets, it is perhaps best to advocate building smaller but with better and time-tested materials. Sometimes this is a hard task for the architect, interior designer or builder to sell the clients, but one that is ultimately in the best interest of the client and everyone involved, including future owners. Our cities depend on design professionals to advocate for their future, even for a time when we are no longer here.
Joseph Pubillones' weekly column, "The Art of Design," can be found at creators.com.