Looking Dated

A while back, I read this piece in the New Yorker by Tom Vanderbilt, “What Makes a Work of Art Seem Dated?”

This paragraph stood out for me:

“Sometimes, of course, things are genuinely ahead of their time. In “The Architecture of Happiness,” Alain de Botton reprints a 1927 advertisement for Mercedes-Benz that depicts a woman, wearing gloves and a cloche (that iconic headwear of the twenties), one foot astride the running board. The woman and the car are posed in front of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s Double House, built for the Weissenhof housing project in Stuttgart. The photo reads like a children’s game: Which of these things is not like the others? The car and the woman are Jazz Age relics; the house looks like it could be have been built in Malibu last week. The irony is that the advertisement wants to depict all three as the quintessence of “modern,” but only the house, so stylistically out in front, kept on being “modern.”

Here’s the picture in question:

1927 advertisement for Mercedes-Benz

1927 advertisement for Mercedes-Benz

The fashion looks dated because fashion moved on.

The car looks dated because industrial design moved on.

The architecture doesn’t look dated because architecture hasn’t moved on.

It isn’t that this building is “genuinely ahead of (its) time.” It is absolutely, rigidly, painfully of its time. It’s that in the 86 years since, architecture hasn’t moved one millimeter. So when you design a building that looks like Corbu’s, remember you’re making one just as full of pastiche as designing clothes or a car in the retro style of the ad.