Why Do We Worship The past?

Basically, I would like to know why we humans are so “retro”! Here we are in the firts decade of the 21st century-and we are building houses that look like they are from 1600 AD! I go to work, wearing a suit which (with some slight modifications) would pass for a suit from 1900! WE still use buttons on our clothing, while we have velcro. I just don’t understand why we are in love with the past-my wife just bought a lamp-it is made to look like an oil-burning lamp , of a design from the 1850’s! This was not always so-if you look at the 1920’s-30’s-people were much more accepting of modernism back then. Going back even farther, it really shocks me when you see a F.Llloyd Wright house from 1910-witha horse and buggy out in front! The house looks so modern-compared to what people build today!
So the question is: are people afraid to break with the past? Why all these reproduction on mid-Victorian houses being built? Why can’t I live in a city that looks like the “World of Tomorrow” exhibit from the 1939 NY World’s Fair? Why aren’t people happy with glass, steel, and plastic? I would like an ultramodern house-but realtors tell me they are impossible to sell (in fact, one of the most desireable features in a house is a fireplace-something that came out in the 1400’s!:confused:

Because the past ROCKS!

-History major

If it works well enough, why change it? Most people don’t share your love of new things, so there’s not much of a reason to make everything new.

I love old stuff. But, I think we should have kids take a class called U.S. Future.

There’s also the idea of knowing the past to avoid making some of those mistakes yet again.

Good style has been built up over many hundreds of years. I am typing this from my house built in 1760 and it is as beautiful and functional now as it ever was. How many houses built today will still be beautiful and habitable 240 years from now? We can’t be arrogant and think that all of mankind’s collective knowledge of craftmanship and beauty can simply be discarded and replaced by the “superior” ways of our new generations. We have made great progress in the areas of inventions and electronics in particular in the last 100 years. However, the foundation of quality house design still depends on quality wood, metal, stone, and cement craftmanship which haven’t changed that much over time. The same rules apply to making quality clothing and anything else that relies on conventional materials.

Most modern architecture is experimental, too artsy to be practical, and extremely ugly IMHO. I have gone off on Frank Lloyd Wright on this message board on numerous occasions. In my opinion, the man was responsible for a reprehisble form of American architecture which thankfully has fallen out of favor. He invented 1960’s and 1970’s architecture back in 1910 which, interestingly enough, diplays amazing foresight and appaling style simeltaneously.

Change without a goal isn’t progress, it’s just aimless movement. If you think something might work better if it were changed, then fine. Otherwise- well, why bother? Besides, I think it’s rather a fallacy to assume that we’re smarter in every way than the past generations. First find out why they did what they did, then decide whether or not their ideas were good. Circular logic, “They did things badly because they lived a long time ago; because they lived a long time ago, they did things badly.”

In addition to the other reasons mentioned, you’ve got things like well-established button manufacturers who, for various reasons, don’t want people using that new-fangled velcro stuff. Then there’s nostalgia and the fact that a lot of people are very resistant to change.

I also suspect that very young people may not always realize that they’re being sold recycled cool.

Shagnasty wrote:

How ever did you get electrical power routed into the Dungeon?

I don’t have a dungeon although I could certainly use one sometimes (they aren’t all that common in New England :)). I certainly have electricity, a modern kitchen, indoor plumbing, cable TV, and even a broadband internet connection :eek:. Those things are all very practical and yet fit seemlessly into a house that is 240 years old. You don’t have to live in a round plastic house and wear orange polyester suits to work everyday to enjoy the benefits of modern technolgy. Combine the comforts of modern technology with the craftsmanship of our forefathers and you get the best of both worlds. They mastered crafts that have been largely lost today and we have technology that they could have never dreamed of.

Velcro instead of buttons for suits?

Velcro as cutting edge technology?


Sorry, I can’t get past the velcro…
Imagine what it could do for the phrase “tearing your clothes off”…

BTW, there is nothing better or more comfortable than curling up in front of a warm, roaring fire.

In the past, things were recycled then as well. Nostalgia is certainly nothing new.

Besides, who wants a house made of nothing but cold steel-that’s not comfortable!

I think I can maybe answer this for you:

My old man is terribly nastolgic. Especially about the late 60’s/ 70’s. He’s always buying old stuff off Ebay and looking up retro junk on the internet.

When asked why he’s so into the past, he’ll answer “because I didn’t fully appreciate it when I was there”. Works for me.:slight_smile:

Yeah, but then you have to find a new house to burn down when it’s over with.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned economics yet.

We don’t live in space age houses because, currently, the cheapest way to build a relatively durable house is stud-frame construction with drywall and insulation. You could custom-build your ultra-modern home, but it would cost about 3 or 4 times what the same square footage in a regular house would cost.

I think the implicit question you’re asking is “why don’t consumers choose products based solely on a rational appreciation of their material and functional virtues?”

Consumers make choices based on tastes and fashions, costs, and familiarity, as well as rational benefits. Space age materials are usually more expensive; their benefits are less obvious; they’re not familiar, so the perception of value is more vague and uncertain.

More on the economics argument:

One of the reasons we moved away from traditional designs is because we can’t afford them any more. Those old colonial homes are not very amenable to modern manufacturing techniques, and we can no longer afford the labor that goes into them.

You have to remember that back then, there were large classes of craftsmen and artisans that made very little money. As a result, we could accept a much greater amount of customization than we can tolerate today. I remember seeing a show about an older house, and it was mentioned that the balustrate for the stairwell represented over six months’ labor for a wood worker. If you hired someone at today’s rates to build that, the labor alone would set you back 20-40 thousand dollars. The only people that can afford that today are millionaires, which is why you only see that kind of construction in multi-million dollar mansions.

So modern houses are designed so that they can be slapped together by semi-skilled workers, using pre-fab trusses, drywall interiors, etc. That in turn dictates a good part of the design of the hosue. If you ever decide to build a house, you’ll discover just how quickly the cost goes up the minute you start looking for even a small amount of customization. For instance, our house has what’s called a ‘California knock-down ceiling’. A standard house has a ‘popcorn’ ceiling where someone just blows stippling onto the ceiling with a blower. In the knock-down variety, a step is added in which someone goes around with a trowel and smooths it out and creates some patterning. That option was $3,000! Can you imagine trying to re-create those houses with hand-carved wooden ceilings?

But now we have technology that is allowing some of that customization to come back. Better tools, use of plastics and formed wood, and computer-aided design and manufacturing allows us to manufacture things that look hand-made. And so some of the older design cues are coming back into vogue.
The same applies to cars - they started becoming more streamlined, and lost a lot of their chrome, protuberences, tail fins, etc. as we learned more about aerodynamics and the need for efficiency grew. But as technology has progressed, the dynamics change again - now we have CAD systems that can tune the aerodynamics of the car while allowing for more unique shapes.

Older cars were also forced to be of certain designs because of limitations of headlight technology, tire technology, etc. Once we broke those limits, we had the ability to create different looks for cars.

Here’s a really good example: Remember when convertibles were all the rage? Then suddenly they went away, and there wasn’t a single domestic convertible in production for years. Then suddenly the convertible made a big comeback. The reason the convertible went away wasn’t because people no longer wanted them, but because new fuel economy requirements made them difficult to build. The average older convertible weighs hundreds of pounds more than an equivalent sedan or coupe, because replacing the natural rigidity of a roof required far more material in the body. And even then, most older convertibles feel much sloppier than their hard-top counterparts, because the body flexes more.

But computers came to the rescue - new computer chassis designs allowed the stiffness of the roof to be replaced without much of a weight penalty. The result was the instant re-adoption of the convertible.

And so it goes - the interplay of nostalgia, technology, and economics causes design trends.

I love the past and history. And lest we forget, there were many historic revivals in the Victorian era- Rennisance, Gothic, Louis XIII, etc. In my favorite era (early 19th century) Fashion and decor was very influnced by classical (Greco-Roman) design. Looking to the past is hardly new, and IMHO is often a good thing, at least when it comes to design. :slight_smile:

You can stand so much change in your life and let me tell you over the 63 years I have lived there has been plenty. Don’t get me started. However, as part of my ability to accept all of that change has come from being able to base my life on things that haven’t changed. If you think I’m making this up read “Future Shock” which probably came out in the 60’s, but still applies to our ability to accept change. Suddenly living in the age of the Jetsons would be a little too much.

Thanks for the replies. I just can’t understand why we want to make modern things like lamps, radios, appliances, lok like they were designed in the age of candles. As I say, I find it frustrating that our designers have such an old-fashioned mindset, and I wish that architects like Frank Llloyd Wright are not more appreciated-I am a man living in the 21st century-I don’t really want to live in the 16th century! I think out obsession about the past blinds us to the possibilities that modern materials make possible-a while back, a man bought a 1948 house aroundhere-this was a steel-frame house, with porcelain -coated steel sides! No painting, and all you ever had to do was hose the walls off occasionally! He tore the house down and replaced it with a Cape Cod house (of a design ca. 1700!) Real progress-exchanging a modern house for an ancient house…oh well!

Look at it out of an evolutionary viewpoint. Design and trends evolve through new ideas and concepts being put into practice. Sometimes they work and stick with us and sometimes they don’t. Evolution isn’t linear either so in some parts one thing works while as in others it doesn’t. What works isn’t by definition defined by what is practical, but also what is perceived as cool or valuable. I for one have penching towards the strictly old fashioned…but I still like the comfort of modern appliances. Now if you don’t like old design, ther’s a slew of slick modern 21st century stuff out there and some of it will probably catch the human fancy and stick around for a while, but some is doomed to end up on the scrap heap just like so much has before…

There is a lot to be said for Hansel and Same Stone’s arguments, which I think fit with my postulation on evolution in design.