The Trouble with Labels / by Scott Nichols

Milam Residence / Paul Rudolph

Milam Residence / Paul Rudolph

The trouble with labels is they are generic and tend to stick around too long. In architecture, look at the labels historic and modern. The terms are used as labels to identify a time period or architectural movement. However, some of the building that qualify for historic preservation status (at least 50 years old) are also labeled as modern, or mid-century modern to be exact. These buildings don’t look “historic”, no columns, plinths or pilasters, so in many instances they aren’t actively being preserved. If you evaluate these buildings by criteria and not by label bias, the mid-century building should be as actively and equally preserved as its federal and colonial counterparts. A good argument for this is made in the book titled Facadomy: A Critique on Capitalism and its Assault on Mid-Century Modern Architecture.

Even the label “modern” is problematic, which is probably why that label has been modified to mid-century modern. This will eventually present another problem in the year 2050. What will we call it then last mid-century modern architecture? This happens in music and fashion as well; remember New Wave? Some of the songs from that genre are now considered “Classic Rock”.

In the computer industry, we have the label PC. Many interpret this as a computer that isn’t an Apple computer. However, an Apple computer is in fact a Personal Computer (PC).

How about in your industry or tribe; is there a label that should be re-thought or retired?

Are labels another example of cognitive laziness?