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October 15, 2005

Watercolor vs. the DeYoung

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The edgy-architecture world would have you believe that the only newly-built alternative to the off-center twinkliness they're peddling is strip mall/cul-de-sac hell. Not true. There are also places like this one. Aside from the awful name -- what were they thinking? -- Watercolor is the kind of quiet-and-lovely new-traditionalist development that I suspect many people would enjoy knowing about, and having access to as a housing option. The Wife and I have visited, by the way, so for once I'm not just commenting on pictures. Here's a decent page of photos.

New house in Watercolor

In other architecture news, San Francisco's flashy new DeYoung Museum opens this weekend. All infolding volumes, zigzagging angles, lighting effects, and weirdo materials, the DeYoung is the edgy world's latest darling. Expect approximately a thousand times more mainstream-press coverage of the DeYoung than of Watercolor, sigh. I haven't seen the new DeYoung in person, so I'm doing my mature best to reserve judgment ... Oh, the hell with maturity: A-ha-ha-ha-ha!! Suckers!!! In ten year's time, that'll look about as chic as shag carpeting.

deyoung.jpg The new DeYoung

Rio Rocket, who has actually been by, likes the design. He writes an appreciation of the new DeYoung, and he links to some photos that he's taken of the project.



posted by Michael at October 15, 2005


I can only imagine what will remind Neil of..

As to WaterColor (why did I wrote WaterCooler two times?), they do have a cul-de-sac, in the Phase I community where all houses (range up to 1.5 mln) are sold out.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 15, 2005 2:32 PM

I'll be in California a few times between now and the end of the year, but likely won't make it up to San Francisco until early 2006. When I do, I'll try hard to take in the DeYoung and will post my reactions.

As for WaterColor, based on the linked pix, I give it "one thumb sideways." This might simply be because I'm not Suth'run and never lived any deeper into Dixie than Anne Arundel Co., Maryland.

I don't understand those big porches and fussy, twig-like pillars. Nor the fussy fenestration.

Nevertheless, I think returning to regional vernacular architecture is better than many alternatives. It would be interesting to see how the developers might try something similar in, say, Scottsdale, Palm Desert, Sonoma County or the Puget Sound area.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 15, 2005 2:40 PM

Since I live in SF, I dropped by to see the DeYoung exterior yesterday. The opening-day line to get in looked to be over an hour so I decided to come back in a week (when the place should be deserted again) to see the interior.

Based purely on exterior aesthetics, I like the observation tower; the view of the park from there must be fabulous! As for the main building, it was an ugly blocky thing before the renovations and's still an ugly blocky thing. The exterior cladding is already oxidized. The scratches and dents all over the panels kind of reminds me of another new fashion I dislike - pre-stressed jeans that are ripped and faded the moment you buy them. The good news is that the exterior (of the museum or the jeans) can't get much worse as it ages, because it's already been beaten and bruised by a professional before you buy. The better news is that no tax dollars were used to fund the renovations and that it doesn't look significantly worse than it did before, merely different.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on October 16, 2005 12:52 PM


One of the reasons I love certain parts of the Southwest is that the "regional vernacular" has never gone out of style there. In places like Santa Fe, Tucson, and Scottsdale, Pueblo/Spanish/Mediterranean style houses and buildings predominate.

Here in Fairfax County, Virginia, the McMansions going up all over the place are more or less faithful knockoffs of the colonial style, back in fashion again. Not very compelling for my taste, but better than the early-Levittown boxes that they're replacing. However, if (God forbid) I lived in Maine, and were forced to choose between a traditional New England saltbox and an edgy, angly Designer Statement, I'd ... I'd ... take drugs.

Posted by: Rick Darby on October 16, 2005 5:06 PM


When writing my comment above, I was thinking of these people-friendly new communities (drat -- forget the term 'cause I gotta install some software once I write this) and not individually-contracted houses. I was in Santa Fe last fall, Scottsdale this spring and Tucson in Spring '04, so I know what you're talking about. As for the DC area, I'm more familiar with the MD side than the VA side, but lots of new housing there, year-in, year-out is that neo-Georgian (?) style featuring brick walls and white-painted wood detailing, sometimes with fancy scrollwork. I'm talking Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties here; I'm less familiar with Montgomery, which might have more "modern" stuff.

I'll speculate that one reason why old styles never got totally swept aside is that prople pay real money to buy houses and try to get the kind of house they want. Maybe we should pass on this revolutionary theory to the Architecture Elite.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 16, 2005 5:25 PM

Tatyana -- I always look forward to hearing what Neil's reminded of!

Donald -- Where housing/architecture/towns/urbanism etc are concerned, I'm a total glass-half-full guy. So your two-thumbs-sideways rating sounds mighty good to me. What I think is such a super thing about places like Watercolor is that the people behind 'em (In this case The St. Joe Company and Jacquelin Robertson) are creating nicer versions of what people already like. It's a suburban development in many ways (though not really, in this case: Watercolor's likely to be a retirement community/vacationspot), but nicer: public spaces where you can run into other people; lots of walkableness; an actual town center; houses that don't present nothing but garage to the street; and buildings in identifiable and familiar styles. And the houses themselves aren't those weird, ersatz, bulldozed-together, big-barn hallucinations of traditional houses; they're actual traditional vernacular houses, only new. Here's hoping they're well-constructed. Wasn't it Auden who -- when asked what his idea of ideal housing was -- responded something like "a 19th century house with 20th century plumbing"? Sounds good to me.

Glen -- Thanks for the on-scener. Those distressed materials are a weird thing for current high-toned architecture to be fastening on, aren't they? I wonder how they'll age. I had dinner with an architect the other day who was laughing about a lot of the chic-edgy stuff that's all over the press. In his opinion, it's like fashion, or a fashion magazine. Kinda gorgeous today, but in a year it'll look completely out of date. Eager to hear how the place strikes you when you're able to take a walk through.

Rick -- The Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean Revival thing is one of the great undertold stories in American architecture! I've got a half-written posting sitting around about it that I should get back to. But you're absolutely right: despite the inevitable atrocities, it's one of the nicer styles ever to have happened to this country, and it has been one of the longest-lasting too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 16, 2005 11:26 PM

As a retirement community, WaterColor might attract some people, I agree. Even as such, it isn't very practical: would you want in your old age to be stuck with dealing with plumbing/roof/lawn maintenanceAs an small-town developement - I doubt it. For 4 big neighborhoods there is only one common interaction area (town center), and on the picture it looks dreary. No schools, no hospitals, not much place for children to play, and no place for business. It is categorized also as a resort; I wouldn't bet on its success as such: no streets with restaurants and entertaining, mostly single family houses and only 1 (one) inn. This is one resort I would never go to. I find some pleasing thing about the plan, though: ther is a park and public access to water.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 17, 2005 9:45 AM

I wonder if the reason I like Tuscon so much is that it has a 'regional vernacular' as Donald Pittenger so nicely put it. Okay, there's lots tacky about the Southwest but I like those houses in Tuscon that don't try to be deserty - they just are. One neighborhood in particular, in the city near the medical center, looks like the houses just grew up out of the desert and the lawns are just rock and cacti. I love it.

So, what examples of modern buidlings do the non-modernists like? Just curious.

Posted by: MD on October 17, 2005 5:30 PM

Glen is right; the old De Young was no great shakes.

Posted by: joe o on October 17, 2005 6:16 PM

Tatyana - It'll be interesting to see how developments like Watercolor work out. So far, New Urb developments have been rip-roaring successes, selling out at a premium. Which of course suggests that there's a lot of demand for that kind of thing. The St. Joe Company, which is one of the largest (if not the largest) landowner-developer in Florida has committed to NewUrb-style in a big way -- Watercolor is their showpiece so far. It's actually right next door (as in a spit away) to Seaside, so it's along part of the Panhandle that's coming up in the world. The Panhandle is pretty great: part honkytonk, part highway-strip-mall, part old Florida fishing-shack ... If it's going to be aggressively developed (and that does seem inevitable), there are worse ways for it to go than New Urb ...

MD -- The regional vernacular of the SW is a wonderful thing! And what an interesting question, about what kinds of modernist buildings the new traditionalists like. I'd love to hear from a few. FWIW, most of the new traditionalists found their way to traditionalism after getting modernist-academic trainings. The ones I've spoken to have tended to say that they woke up one day and realized they hated the glassy/angular buildings they were designing and building -- that they'd gone into architecture wanting to build beautiful buildings and had gotten trained into doing stuff they hated. And then they woke up to the wonders of traditional architecture. So, do they now hate the modernism that they've turned against? Are they able to view some of it fondly? The biggest beef the new traditionalists (and many people generally) have against modernism has less to do with individual buildings than it does with the general impact of modernist ways of building on towns, neighborhoods, and cities generally. Modernism has been a disaster where public space is concerned -- even modernists agree that they've made a mess of the public realm: streetscapes, neighborhoods, parks, etc. A given building or two might look catchy or chic. But the general impact of the modernist approach (lots of towers in plazas, lots of parking lots, lots of buildings failing to respect the streetfront) leaves cities in terrible shape.

Joe O -- If you get to the new one , please let us know how you react.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 17, 2005 11:10 PM


Is there a reason you comment on Watercolor without mentioning the place between it and the Gulf -- Seaside?

Before there was Watercolor, we called the site Swampside.


Posted by: john massengale on October 25, 2005 12:27 AM

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