How the Drive for Profit Flattens the American Landscape

Mass-market production and the commodification of housing has led to a ‘flattening’ of design into a limited set of bland, homogeneous options.

2 minute read

September 29, 2022, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


In a piece for the Dallas Morning News, architecture critic Mark Lamster describes what he calls “The Flattening” of American culture, wherein products such as cars and houses that once featured unique designs are increasingly similar to each other.

Lamster writes, “To drive around Dallas (or any American city) is to be confronted by an endless series of cheaply constructed apartment blocks, three to five stories in height, with clunky beige bays that stretch for blocks on end.” To Lamster, this sameness is “an insult to the art” of architecture.

This homogeneity, according to Lamster, boils down to “a conservatism inherent in American culture,” an ethos that is “inherently risk averse.” Meanwhile, a disconnection from the house as a “multigenerational homestead” and its transformation to a commodity encourages builders to try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible with inoffensive, bland designs and cheap, readily available materials.

Not leaving out the workplace, Lamster also critiques the modern office tower, which “has likewise become a cliche repeated ad nauseum.” Modern design, Lamster argues, “is almost entirely driven by economics.”

The drive to maximize short-term profit pervades all aspects of society, Lamster argues, recommending “a shift in economic policy” that would “incentivize long-term profit over quarterly growth,” although Lamster admits he doesn’t have a suggestion for what this shift would entail. However, the ravages of climate change, which threaten our complacent bubble, could force the kind of broad change required to snap us out of the comfortable, but bland, status quo.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in The Dallas Morning News

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