Friday, August 31, 2007

Our remodern movement - the tipping point?

Is this it? Is this our time? Is it time for the modern house to break into the mainstream of American housing? The whole internet is slow on a Friday night so its a good time to ruminate. I often reflect on the state of our remodern movement as I've come to call it. Is this the time? Will modern houses break into the mainstream, finally? Will this be the time when everything changes, and anybody who wants to buy a house, build a house, will have modern as one of their legitimate choices? A builder, or real estate agent - heck, your friends and family even - won't think you strange for wanting a house that is not (pseudo)traditional. I want that change, I'm working for that change, I know many others who want that change, and many others working for that change. And I see change, lots of it of late, new modern houses being built and shown on the internet, new modern developments being offered, modern prefab houses conceived, offered, sold, and built. A lot has changed, a lot has happened since I became convinced to pursue change, oh, around about 2001. And why? What is it that I want from this? What is it that you want? I simply want it to be easier to get the kind of house I like. Yet, it certainly has not happened yet - "it" being the sea change that would bring modern houses into the mainstream of choice. As far as things have come forward in the past few years its clear that there is still a long way to go. Prefabrication had a run up of popularity, at least as an idea. Articles expounding on the new generation of prefabs, notably modern, appeared in different print publications across the country, and online as well. Several of these products have taken hold and are producing houses in numbers the likes of which have not been seen since the 1950s. Some of these products have certainly been more successful than any past run at prefabrication by an architect with a revolutionary plan. But yet we are not there yet. Modern is not being served up for breakfast along side your corn flakes just yet. Other conditions have changed as well. The housing market is reeling from the biggest run-up of values and demand most of us have ever seen in our life times. The talk of bubbles bursting has certainly come true, and we are already witnessing the fall out on associated industries as lenders shrink their work forces, some hammered by defaults. There must certainly be a softening of construction costs along with this burst market. Many builders and subcontractors who were gainfully employed by large corporate developers are now on the street competing for other work. Developers have greatly reduced or stopped building the status quo houses which are the mainstay of their business. Yet, the just emerging voice of the un-served demand for modern housing is still growing, still looking for product, still largely unserved. Does an opportunity lie here? Could some forward thinking developer decide to serve this market, and enjoy some growth in contrast to the retreat of the housing market in general? Could many individuals who were seeking to build their own modern house now suddenly find themselves finally able to build aided by the softening of prices - is this the break that they have been waiting for? Could other developers take note of the growth in this segment while the rest of the market retreats, and then too attempt to serve it? Might this growth expose many others to the modern house, people who never considered it before, adding more to the numbers of unserved demand? Can we tip the circumstances in our favor in this context and get the modern house's foot in the proverbial door of the market? I ponder this. Will it never happen, or is this the time. I finally got around to reading The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, an interesting book on the phenomenon of social epidemics. Its about the point when an idea catches on and spreads like wildfire. When things change suddenly for no obvious reason, when the rate of change is suddenly exponential. Epidemics of disease behave similarly, and hence much of the terminology is interchangeable. In writing about it he has said it was his hope to give people the tools to start their own positive epidemics. Its certainly not a how to manual, but it is a competent attempt to form his observations of common patterns into a framework, if not a formula. Could we bring that to bear on this situation? If the context of the market right now is favorable to an expansion of modern housing, then what else can we do to hasten its adoption, or simply awareness? I can't repeat the entire book here, nor am I advising everyone to go out and read it. But at least have a read through some of the authors comments at his web site, and a look at the outline from wikipedia. In brief, he advances that small things can bring about big change. He observes people who assume different roles in this process - Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen - I won't explain them as a breif read of the wiki site is a good start. Are you one of these? Could you be? He observes a few concepts that are common - It only takes a few of the people with these skills to tip something, ideas must "stick", be meaningful to people in order to tip, context strongly influences our behavior (and sometimes small changes in context beget large changes in behavior), group size is important for the coherence of ideas, the epidemic cycle follows the bell curve (our current readers no doubt at the lead of the curve). As I read this book my mind keeps returning to our re-modern movement. We have people acting these roles, we have a sticky idea which many people are very passionate about, we have a context that has shifted to favor our goals. What can we do to hasten the tipping? Be a Connector. Let the people in your life know about your preference for a modern home. No, you don't have to go around like some freaky cult member. Just wear your preference on your sleeve. Post a photo of that to-die-for modern home from Dwell, or Atomic Ranch on your office wall. Get a coffee mug with a modern house on it. Carry your Modernism magazine around with you. Write about your preference in your blog and link to your favorite modern houses online. Be ready to lay bare your enthusiasm when a curious co-worker or friend asks you about it. Be a Maven. Do you dig into the very last detail of things you are into. Do you have the earth friendly HVAC system of your dream home planned out in your head, and you know where to get the best price on the parts? Be a materialicous, or a Future House Now. These are people just like you that put their obsession to work for all of us. Even if you think it may be an obscure dimension of what the whole picture is about I can assure you that your blog about everything to do with your modern kitchen sink will have hundreds of passionate followers. Be a Salesman. Are you a leader in what you do? Do people follow your lead because of your work, or your social circle, or your volunteer activities? Bring some of those skills to bear on the modern house. Be an organizer of a modern house meetup group. Get tours going to visit modern projects in your region, get others from different parts of your life to sample this and see what its all about. I'm not saying that this will make it happen. But I know it won't happen if we don't try to make it happen. I'm pulling for your future house - yeah, you over there reading at work, and you in the kitchen, and I'm pulling for your future house, yes you with the iPhone. I want you to pull for his house and her house too. Now get to work.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post Greg that really got me thinking over the past week. You've challenged us all to be "connectors" this post will help to remind me to do all I can to move the modern design movement forward. Thanks for taking your Friday to lay down your thoughts on this issue and keep up the great work!