Blog by Beebe Cline

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Why Authenticity in Architecture Matters

I was 22 years old, full of myself and sitting at a conference desk across from Charles Foreman Johnson, who had recently been named as one of the 100 best design professionals in the world by Architectural Digest. Between us, sitting proudly on the table, was a model. I was explaining to Mr. Johnson why this model that I had recently completed in school was the greatest work of architecture of the last 50 years.

Mr. Johnson listened quietly while he spun the model, looking from above and ducking to an eye-level view. My verbal dissertation finally ended, but Mr. Johnson kept quiet. Surely, I thought, he was simply considering the magnificence that sat upon his conference table. After a few moments, he leaned back in his chair and scratched his chin. Then, after what seemed like forever, he spoke: "What you have here, Eric, are three very good ideas. Unfortunately, you've stuck them all together into one design. The home lacks integrity; it lacks authenticity."

He then motioned for me to cup my hands together and look through them the way a child would pretend to look through a telescope. I looked at the front of my home, then the left side, then the right. Though I certainly didn't want to admit it, I immediately understood what he meant. My great piece of architecture suffered from multiple personalities — there was no single idea that tied it together, and it did indeed lack authenticity.

Why does authenticity make for wonderful architecture? Let's look at six examples of authentic interiors and exteriors, and why they work.
1. Sweeney Lake House, Minneapolis

The facade of this home is striking and clean. Two materials, two windows with parallel geometry and an opening that is obviously the entrance. What would you imagine the interior to be, based on this facade? The answer largely determines the home's authenticity.
Well, here is the master bath of the same home in the previous photo. Striking, clean lines. I love the simple use of two materials for the floor and one large window with a view of the lake beyond. The architecture of this bathroom perfectly marries with the exterior. This home has authenticity.

More photos from this project
2. Montecito Residence, California

The approach to this home is promising: interesting materials, interesting procession and small glimpses of the architecture. What would you expect the interior to be, based upon this image?
The interior doesn't disappoint: exposed steel, open spaces, metal decking and an architectural dialogue that fulfills the promise of the home's approach.

Too often we will see a movie that does not fulfill the promise of the movie's poster or trailer (I may be just a bit bitter about the last movie I saw). That can be a very disappointing experience. Authenticity in architecture keeps and fulfills the home's promises.

More photos from this project
3. Nevada Home

Here is an image of a dining room of beautiful lyricism with a rhythmic, exposed structure, a clean space and consistency in material choices, all creating spatial integrity. The furniture was designed and constructed specifically for this space.
And here is the front door to the same home. The design in the door begins the rhythm of the space beyond.

"This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

— William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Architecture should share the same qualities of authenticity that we value in people.

More photos from this project
4. Children's Room, Turkey

This image is a wonderfully playful kids' bedroom. The Lego idea is carried through consistently with creativity and imagination. Truth be told, I love Legos and still play with them ... with my kids, of course.

The color brings the space to life. Not overdone or underdone, this singular space has integrity.

More photos from this project
5. San Francisco Bathroom

This image reminds me of an Eric Carle illustration. The room has a wonderful use of color and texture in the floor and in the drawers. It's a whimsical space that isn't trying to be overly serious.

More photos from this project

6. Timber-Frame Home, Canada

Last, for those who might bewail my almost exclusive use of modern architecture, is this beautiful home. Too often homes of a more traditional style are merely a facade, with the interior ordinary at best, and the promises of the exterior are unkept.

Thankfully, that is not the case for this house. This is the interior of the room seen in the tall roof portion of the previous image. It's a genuine architectural experience that's authentic to the style, right down to the thick, rough beams, tall space (just as we would expect from the exterior) and detailed connections.

Architecture must be authentic, just like a person — authentic to its culture and its historical context, with the thread of a common idea carried consistently throughout.

We've all been lied to in art — whether it be a movie, a book or an exhibition. Little is worse, in the context of architecture, than entering a home that promises much and delivers little. A home should deliver well beyond its promises with whimsy and surprise, just like a great movie. Architecture must be authentic to be successful.