“You can make things crunchy still today. To do so, you have to make an architecture that has the quality of ruin and construction, of the past and the future, built into it.”
–Aaron Betsky, “Crunch Time for Architecture” on Architect.com
At Ward + Blake Architects we have long called ourselves “dirty modernists,” firmly grounded in a sense of terroir – sometimes literally, using rammed earth construction and sod roofs seeded with native grasses.
So we greeted Aaron Betsky’s recent Architect.com article, “Crunch Time for Architecture,” with a sense of bonhomie. Betsky’s “crunchy architecture” feels both familiar and right to a couple of dirty modernists:
“Crunchy architecture is architecture that exhibits and frames reality, that is gritty, open, and has some meat to it… It is the opposite of the kind of slick, bland, and anonymous forms in which most of us are imprisoned every day. Crunch architecture feels and is real. It is material to the max, messy and sometimes even aggressive—not because it wants to hurt us, but because we have become so used to reality disappearing behind images that tell us what to buy, where to go, and how to think that we forget what it means to be real.”
Crunchy is what we see missing in the Midcentury Modern work so popular with sites like Houzz. The sleek skins lack context. These things could be built anywhere in the world. We humans go to extreme lengths to choose where we live, work and play, but then we build homogenous too-slick structures?
Our dirty modernism attempts to address that. Life is not ideal, slick or seamless. And yet it is those messy parts of life that are truly interesting. We go to Italy and visit a chapel made of femurs and skulls; we go to San Sebastian and have a beer in a pub that has dozens of hams hanging from the ceiling, dripping suet on the patrons, and that seems authentic, contextual (and tasty!).
Here in Jackson Hole we are surrounded by a landscape of astounding beauty, but its challenges can be equally astounding: temps dropping to -30, multiple feet of snow in hours, winds blowing more than 80 mph, and mega-runoff when it all melts, plus roaming bison, elk, moose, grizzlies – and actively seismic areas.
Left to right: Tom Ward’s rammed earth TK Pad; Bison: Steve Maslowski; Grand Teton: Scott Bauer
We deal daily with steep and rocky sites, prevailing winds, even the ridiculously glorious 365-degree views that demand to be accommodated. Our chosen terroir keeps our hands in the dirt and our materials honest, standing the test of time and finding beauty in weather and age. As Betsky says at the end of this article, “It’s time to get crunchy.” Or dirty.