Architects love modern houses. They are almost always the big winners in architectural design contests. And why not? Done correctly, they push the envelope of design and make a stunning statement. However, in many markets, modern houses are a risky proposition. While they may create interesting building forms or geometric shapes, they are expensive to build and buyers will either love it or run from it. Perhaps it’s because they don’t evoke the traditional image of home.
Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, and various other markets have really taken to and embraced the modern look. Move outside these metropolitan areas and the reception changes, particularly in the southeast. In fact, many planned unit developments strictly prohibit modern elements like flat roofs. Production builders also tend to avoid flat roofs because they tend to costlier to build and can be a warranty nightmare. How do we give buyers in wet climates a more modern design?
Recently, there has been a resurgence in Mid-Century Modern architecture; designs from the fifties and sixties. You have probably seen these extremely low pitches roofs (2/12 or 3/12), often as shed roofs with large expanses of clerestory glass. These are more accepted designs than those with flat roofs but still represent a decidedly niche market in many regions.
A new hybrid style is emerging, called Moderated Modern. It involves taking building materials from the modern houses and adding a steeper pitch to the shed roofed mid-century modern. Pops of vibrant color blocking give it a fresh new look. Unlike traditional styles of architecture, there are no pattern books or rules to follow. This can result in some awkward building forms. So, how do you even begin to design something with no rules? This is my approach:
“Rule” number one: It must look like a house!
Ask any first grader to draw a picture of a house, and you will get an image with a pitched roof. It may or may not have windows or doors but it will have that quintessential shape. I think that’s a great place to start when designing Moderated Modern houses because at the end of the day, you are creating a home for a family and not a museum. Within that framework, a variety of roof forms can be utilized - including shed roof forms.
“Rule” number two: It must shed water!
My second rule is about water and how it drains from a roof. Perhaps it’s the Floridian in me, but roof forms that pitch down toward the center of the home (sometimes referred to as butterfly roofs) instead of to the perimeter just look wrong to me. During a storm, I know what that water will do to anyone trying to enter the home and the eventual leaks that will occur. Additionally, roof forms tend to be directional, leading the eye to the top. Shed roofs that slope from the center of the home upwards toward the sides lead the eye away from the front door. Aside from the resulting bulky end-elevation, that’s just not very welcoming!
“Rule” number three: It should be balanced.
Balance applies to all styles. However, one of the hallmarks of this Moderated Modern is asymmetry, making balance trickier. From my asymmetry blog, I like to image Lady Justice holding up a scale. Is the house heavier on one side than the other? Perhaps this is another reason I like the shed roof sloping up towards the center and not the perimeter – it helps to create better balance.
I believe the appeal to this style is that it’s new, yet approachable. It evokes all the wonderful feelings of a home yet it allows homeowners the freedom to express themselves and isn’t just like Mom and Dad’s house. It certainly won't be to everyone's liking, but communities are already beginning to embrace it outside of the urban landscape. Moderated Modern is a bold style that can find a broad audience looking for something less predictable!