To Earn the Beauty of the Past, Keep the Past Alive

James Walpole/ July 11, 2020

In my hometown of Charleston, SC, architecture is a big deal.

Charleston is a historic city filled with gorgeous homes from the neoclassical period of architecture in the 1700s. And as a growing city, Charleston is full of homes with builders and homeowners who have to make decisions, including the decision to keep with traditional styles or break with them.

Much of the modern is lame: look at the bland high-rises going up at various points in the city, or the townhomes, or the other apartment complexes. These buildings are without character and bland. The avant-garde can occasionally be interesting when it’s tried (which is rare in the historic part of the city) but just as likely to be an eyesore which quickly goes out of date.

The other option is to build homes in the traditional style of old Charleston. Get your neoclassical symmetry, your clean but still ornate look and feel.

This way seems best to me, but it too faces a challenge. Nothing can ever go back fully. This neoclassical building style arose in response to the living culture and thoughts and needs of people living in the 18th century. The 21st century lifestyle doesn’t jive with that. Given the way we live now, a recreated Charleston home would feel more like a museum than a lived-in place – a prop rather than an organic environment.

The solution?

While some people would argue that it involves scrapping the styles of past living, I don’t think that’s right – for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. I think the solution to enjoy the art and work of the past is instead to keep some of the past alive ourselves.

Want to create a farm aesthetic? Don’t just build a farmhouse – get some animals and plant a garden. Want to have an old Charleston porch? Skip air conditioning for some months out of the year, and use your porch as it was intended to be used. Want to have a chimney and fireplace? Burn more wood.

There must be a living reason and fountainhead for a culture, a home, etc to retain the traits it has. If a home or a society or a family is going to model itself traditionally (and this is a good thing to do in most cases), some of the bases of those traditions should be continued.

Photo by Cameron Watkins on Unsplash

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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