Mass Appeal – Part 1

The Lost Component of Residential Architecture

by Douglas Keating

When we think of buildings, we see a kit of parts, solid things that form voids and define spaces. The list of parts can be further broken down into elements that extend much deeper to include line, proportion, color, light, balance hierarchy, form, material, and even culture. Beyond this there is an entire vocabulary devoted to architectural pontification. From this visual vocabulary, it is the word and concept of ‘mass’ that not only defines these spaces, but also is inextricably linked to our buildings. In other terms, mass is ‘that’ which defines ‘that which is not,’ and it is much more.

In the United States, we have defined our own vocabulary for design. It does involve mass, but, in most cases, it is just a pragmatic application. Rarely in the past is this element realized as a formative design tool but rather a passive necessity. This is painfully true for contemporary residential architecture. Whether it is a homebuilder that measures value only by volume or a designer that wants to emulate the latest modern collection of boxes, it is the attention to the function of solid that has, in many cases, fallen to the wayside.

Slave to Societal Values


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