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Building Diversity

November 25, 1995|MARESA ARCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Have you ever looked at a house and wondered what style of architecture it is? Well, if that house is in Orange County, chances are even experts are stumped.

The nature of local architecture, according to David Gebhard, a professor of architectural history at UC Santa Barbara and author of "A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California" (Peregrine Smith, 1977), is plagiarism.

"I mean that in a positive sense. Most of the source of contemporary residential architecture in Southern California derives from the Hispanic or Mediterranean via the 1920s revival," he said. "It's pretty lukewarm in terms of historical accuracy; most is incompetent. The builder or architect did not understand the original source, and that has resulted in unfortunate architecture" that was poorly rendered.

Don Jacobs of JBZ Dorius Architecture and Planning in Irvine agrees that residential architecture on a mass scale is not always the best example of pure architectural styles. Even common choices of house color offend the architect.

"It's dreadful that someone thought pink and peaches were the colors to use," Jacobs said.

House colors found in Mediterranean regions are much richer than what can be done with modern latex paint.

"There are wonderful pinks and then there are garish, misunderstood pinks," Gebhard said. "Most of what you find here is very misunderstood."

When people talk about Orange County residential architecture style, the prevailing attitude is that there is none.

The house-building boom broke ground in the county during the '60s and '70s, when residential architecture was predominantly reflecting the ranch, split-level or contemporary styles, with bits of detail from earlier architecture traditions thrown in for good measure.

"Basically, since the 1960s, a good percentage of Southern California architecture has been loosely--and more often than not incompetently--based on the Hispanic tradition," Gebhard said.

Gebhard defines the Hispanic tradition as structures with architectural elements found in Mexico or the Iberian Peninsula. Good examples of the Spanish styles can be found in older sections of Santa Ana and Fullerton.

Why is housing such a mismatched collection of styles?

It goes back to the general misunderstanding of styles to which Gebhard referred. Builders decide they want a certain look without any consideration of exactly what style it is. Then it's up to the architect to create the house.

"We as architects are as guilty as any," Jacobs said. "We look at these different styles and what goes into them, and when we picture them, we seldom picture them with a three-car garage out front, which is what the builder wants. Then we tack on the garage and try to make it work, and, of course, that style was not developed with a garage, and so we get these funny compromises."

Lack of diversity in Orange County housing has added to the corruption of architectural style. "A lot of the sameness comes from the '80s, when new housing developments had guidelines that made every house one style in that community," Jacobs said.

One style that is not all that prevalent in large residential tracts is the Craftsman look developed by architects Greene and Greene around the turn of the century.

"That's because [the Craftsman look] cannot be copied cheaply," Jacobs said. "The style uses better materials, and it takes a higher degree of design talent to bring all the elements together to make it work."

It is unfair to say all new housing tracts are disasters, according to Gebhard. Most contemporary houses are well planned and executed when it comes to floor space. They are just not a pure style.

But Gebhard warns not to take labels too seriously.

"Terms are little playthings in architecture, and one should have fun with them. You cannot use them as general terms the way you would in botany or other sciences," he added.

Because most houses in the county are not of any one particular architectural discipline, is there any way to look at a house and declare its architectural roots?

"Oh, I think someone with expertise could slice their way through it, deciding on the general form of the house and individual details. It would be a Nancy Drew effort," Gebhard said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Building Diversity

Tudor

A style often seen imitated in custom homes, Tudor typically features a steeply pitched roof. The facade has one or two prominent cross gables, side gables and decorative half-timbering. The tall, narrow windows have many panes, and large chimneys are decorated with chimney pots. The name is historically imprecise because few examples truly mimic the architectural style of the English Tudor period. The style commonly seen more closely resembles medieval English architecture from the 14th Century.

Mission

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