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Backlash in architectural design

Architectural design is like any design - it goes through phases. I like to call these phases "backlash" as any "new" design must be significantly different from "old" design. And it happens on a ten-to-twenty-year cycle.

The current cycle is a backlash against the tendency towards the bland, stuffy architecture of the 1990s and early early 21st Century. Modern design today embraces multiple colors and textures, and has a very "modular" look, that is, buildings looking like they are made up of multiple pieces.

The previous cycle was a backlash against the 1970s and 1980s, which had emphasized the new "organic" look and embraced a more "earth tone" color palette, instead of the garish colors and multiple textures of the 1950s and 60s.

The 1950s were a backlash against the dull design of the 1930s and 40s, which had emphasized an utilitarian look, which was practical and solid.

The previous era, the 1920s, was a backlash against the dull architectural design of the turn of the century. The 1920s were a time of flamboyant architecture, including Art Deco, which emphasized intricate design work and complex textures.

The turn of the century was a backlash against the Victorian Era. For many years, buildings had been designed with so much decoration on them that people compared them to overly-decorated birthday cakes. By 1915 or so, quite an industry had grown for people who wanted to remove all of that decoration off of their old Victorian houses. Victorian houses had become so much of an embarrassment that they were relegated to being "haunted houses", or where old people lived who had gotten out of touch.

So, if you want to know what architectural design will look like in the future, just look to the past. But be sure to skip a generation.

Pictured: The downtown Phoenix Sheraton Hotel, built in 2011, a classic "backlash" with its bright colors and modular design. The next backlash, of course, will be against multiple colors and modular design, and then this building will look old-fashioned.