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Technology may be architecture’s worst enemy

Is another aesthetic backlash on horizon?

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In the days of laborious handcrafting, before the coming of the Industrial Revolution, ornament such as carving or engraving was a hallmark of extraordinary quality. Yet with the advent of mass production in the mid-19th century, automated machinery could replicate the most elaborate decoration at nominal cost, whether for a piece of furniture or a whole house. This literal cheapening of ornament set off a popular craze for mass-produced items encrusted with decoration -- not necessarily of high quality -- and also began a trend of treating an object's decoration as separate from its functional aspects. Hence, many late Victorian items, whether clocks, couches or cast-iron stoves, are positively wriggling with superfluous ornament, blithely gleaned from a jumble of periods and slathered on like so much wedding cake frosting. Likewise in architecture, the mania for mass-produced ornament yielded a series of increasingly ornate home styles, culminating in the frenetically d...