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Technology may be architecture’s worst enemy

Is another aesthetic backlash on horizon?
Published on Nov 7, 2008

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...

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