This Old House
Not since early man leafed in the sides of his treehouse and called it home, has architecture had such a momentous moment.Skip to next paragraph
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Not since the caveman leafed in the sides of his treehouse and called it home , has architecture had such a momentous moment.
If you thought This Old House was just another recipe show (sift gravel! hammer nail! enjoy!) and host Bob Vila just another pretty face (Thalassa Cruso with a beard), consider the repercussions of the picture-window program.
When the public television show's third series moved the staple window from its vista on the street and installed it to the rear, Levittown ranches from Maine to California trembled.
So have a certain number of architects, preservationists, and professionals concerned with issues of quality and the more cerebral elements of the building and environmental arts.
Starting with an ordinary old house in a deteriorating neighborhood, the program went on to a landmark one in an affluent area; this winter, it settled in to renovate a barely middle-aged home a few towns away.
In all three, the mix of folksy delivery and the weekly suspense of a Masterpiece Theater of building has earned This Old House high ratings - an educational TV record of 5 percent of the TV audience - plus two books that sold well.
Whopping off old walls and whipping in new partitions with its usual verve, WGBH-TV producer Russ Morash's how-to extravaganze has carved the same niche for the celebrity handyman as he did for the celebrity cook or gardener.
The question is: What has it done for (to?) old and new houses as well as contemporary and vintage architecture?
While viewers in 260 or so cities watch what broadcasting manager David Liroff calls a ''keyhole on architecture,'' happy voyeurs to the demystification of design, real architects and designers feel themselves abused and the design process misinterpreted.
Charming, but alarming in greater measure, the program broaches the architecture of the American house the way the pioneer broached the entire landscape.
Heroic, improvisational, energetic, the builder of a New Land surmounted obstacles with aplomb and ingenuity. A bootstrapper, he went it alone - without benefit or burden of expert - and it worked.
So does the builder-as-star shaped by Channel 2 in Boston. If the walls wobble, Bob Vila puts up new ones. If the bathroom lacks character or modernity, start again. This is good showmanship, and some find the how-to-grout aspects helpful, but it is a questionable model of either architecture or economy.
The first house wound up too expensive for the neighborhood; two units in the second are still idling on the market. House No., 3, though already owned, could hardly recoup its costs. Part of this is production problems, part the attitude toward architecture.
Just as the American landscape was virgin territory unimpeded by the tired past, so the architecture of the American landscape, misnamed This Old House, is a place without a heritage or restrictions. The attitude and the TV process have given the rehabbed houses the look of slick and stripped-down invaders in their settings.
In the name of ''telegenics,'' the program isolated building No. 1 from its Dorchester neihborhood, never addressing the fascinating porridge of a place on Meetinghouse Hill that impacts on the architecture.