|Finnish-style dish cabinet/drying rack. Are the Finns|
smarter than we are? Yeah, probably.
I got an eye-opening dose of this when I visited Finland some years ago. Trying to help out my host in the kitchen after dinner, I offered to dry the dishes, and got a rather uncomprehending look. Know why? The Finns don’t dry the dishes. Instead, they have a wall cabinet above the drainboard that has an open wire rack in place of a bottom shelf. The rinsed dishes are put away and simply drip-dry. The water runs down the drainboard and into the sink.
|Baseboard: It costs a lot to install,|
but what exactly is it doing there?
Another relic of this traditional mindset is the baseboard or mopboard—that wooden molding installed where floors meet walls. Originally, a mopboard was just that—a board meant to protect the wall plaster from moisture and scrapes when you were mopping. That seems sensible enough in rooms that need mopping. Today, however, most rooms have wall-to-wall carpet, and even my mother doesn’t mop that.
|Sear Roebuck precut house, circa 1929:|
Apparently far too radical an idea.
Far from being trivial, the baseboard issue is symptomatic of a larger problem in architecture: The way we build houses has remained fundamentally unchanged since the Middle Ages. We assemble them out of tens of thousands of individual pieces, so that no two are ever quite alike. There have been many attempts to improve this state of affairs: In the early 20th century, Sears Roebuck sold precut homes that arrived via railcar with every brick and stick of lumber required to build it—a step in the right direction, but one that ultimately didn't fly due to public's lower perception of "kit houses" as opposed to "custom-built" homes.
|The luxurious railcar-like interior of Buckminster Fuller's|
Dymaxion House of the early 1950s, an innovative
design that was to be mass-produced in an aircraft plant.
Sorry, Bucky—it's too far out for the hidebound
While a handful of architects enjoy experimenting with such innovative housing concepts—such as Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion house, shown here—in truth the majority are perfectly happy doing things as they’ve always been done, mopboards and all. It’s not that architects are a bunch of reactionaries; it’s just that, contrary to their popular image, most architects are busy enough just making a living. They feel no inclination to reinvent the wheel.
Then, too, contractors are reluctant to adopt new construction methods because the long learning curve can cost them their profits. Moreover, it takes people a long time for people to get used to new ideas in architecture. If automobile design progressed at the same rate that housing has, we’d all still be driving Huppmobiles.
With all these forces working against progress in housing, what’s going to create change? Beats me—but I’ll think about it while I dry the dishes.