Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mullet Architecture

I thought of this term while visiting Indianapolis and seeing their library and a nearby church converted to residential. Mullet refers to a hairstyle that is:

-business in the front and party in back.

A mullet is a type of catfish. Mullet head is a derogatory word implying poor and therefore stupid. This word became associated with the hairstyle a few decades ago. While I claim credit for Chicago Facade, peeling the facade off an old building then pasting it on a new one to satisfy nostalgia, the Mullet Architecture term already exists.

Examples given are Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow house in River Forest and modernist houses built in Nazi Germany which maintained a severe front. I am extending the term to Mullet houses that meet the requirements of historic districts while allowing large family rooms and kitchens.

This type of restoration arises from envy of the Ranch styles with their dramatic living/dining and open kitchen areas. People living in Craftsman, Victorian, Four Square, Elizabethan, Georgian, Italianate, etc. homes want to have the suburban open pit television aesthetic. Since they can’t capture the spaciousness of those cheap unincorporated lots, they compensate with fancy kitchens.

The kitchens are remarkable. Consider a restaurant line chef’s work station. It is quite snug, in part because space for guests represents revenue but also because chefs are on their feet. Some pastry chefs may maintain a piece of marble, but I have yet to see any of the popular counter tops in a restaurant kitchen. These home kitchen Hestia shrines are an atavism representing a lost mythical past. One giveaway is the lack of a smoke hood above a ridiculous industrial stove. I have seen paintings hung in a kitchen.

The Indianapolis Library anchors a large park designed in the image of the National Mall. Centering of the Sales Force tower at the opposite end of the park has already subverted the nationalist image.

Losing the original pleasant library building at the end of the park would be wrong. I fail to see why keeping that building required that they add on to it. A separate new library building, even at a different site doesn’t seem to be more expensive.

I am not a fan of repurposing churches. I understand nostalgia for the buildings. But the cheery appropriation of the sacred for the profane is annoying. Indianapolis wanted to maintain the look of their park while building condominiums. The mullet is easier than attempting an architecturally appropriate modern building on the site.


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