We’ve built up all kinds of personal databases of buildings. Some of them are pretty general: split level houses, gas stations, water towers, etc. Some are more specific: fast food chains (new), fast food chains that haven’t been remodeled yet, “new” apartment buildings, dilapidated hotels by the sides of highways, office parks, churches that used to be something else, etc. (I personally have a category called hospitals built in the early 00s that were doing Postmodern Prairie chic.)
. . .
Like I said earlier, a lot of the time we don’t have a common language to describe these buildings. Some people come up with pejorative names to describe built phenomenon (the McMansion is the prime example of this). Others try to define buildings by decade (e.g. 70s malls vs 80s malls).
However, this lack of common language hasn’t stopped hundreds of makeshift historians from relentlessly categorizing buildings, styles, aesthetics, and anything else that can be filmed, photographed, or written about online. And frankly, this work is fascinating, it is important, it is exciting, and it needs to be done.
Kate Wagner’s work at McMansion Hell is a great model of public scholarship: the site is informed heavily by her academic background in architecture, yet by its humor and its focus on matters of public concern, it becomes entertaining and accessible. It’s also ethically engaged and has a profound respect for non-academic modes of knowledge. I find this all super impressive. The post quoted above, titled “All Buildings Are Interesting,” amounts to a defense of serious academic attention to quotidian, everyday matters—not just grand works of architecture, but our everyday buildings. It’s great.