Words like traditional, contemporary, ultra-modern, even green, get used all the time and I don’t think we know what these words mean to one another. This is the trouble with language in general, and I think with architecture it has special vehemence. I wish we had a richer common language around architecture. 

Take this exchange: 

       Me: I would love to do more minimal residential work. 

       Friend: Do you really want to do ultra-modern design?

       (distaste implied)

I didn’t use the world ultra-modern, yet it sprung to my friend’s mind when I said minimal. It caused me to think deeply about why and how those two words got hitched together in the cultural vernacular to mean the same thing, while an architect would draw a distinction. 

This conversation was one of many in which I noticed that architecture splits into two buckets, modern and everything else. When minimal became ultra-modern, it took on the tableau that modern sometimes inhabits: bad, cold, inhumane, impractical, not-buildable, showy. It means it doesn’t feel good. Modern is a binary in these moments. How did “modern” – something that calls a point in time – today, now, current – somehow turn into – bad, cold, inhumane? Does this happen in other professions? What is modern medicine? modern law?

And why on earth do we use this word “modern” so carelessly? (We all of us, including the architects, have created a meaningless word).

I dislike how everyone (including us architects) talk about buildings as either modern or not-modern. 

I might say to my friend:

I would love to do more work with quiet meditative forms and refined detailing that minimizes clutter. Architecture that feels calm and meditative. Architecture that is the spatial equivalent to the weather on a perfect morning in June. Nothing to add, nothing to take away. Just a deep sense of well-being. I would like to do more of that. 

And I’m still not sure if she would have any more of a mental image, or if that is possible with words. I hope I would move the peg off the reductive and negative connotations. That’s what I’d like.