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New Book Examines How Modern Economic Forces May Affect Tomorrow’s Designs

Two years ago, James Cornetet, a young architecture grad from the University of Cincinnati, designed a cool coffee table that won kudos at the international A’Design Award & Competition in Como, Italy.

James Cornetet in the Process Architecture office, which is undergoing renovation.

And now, Cornetet, 31, originally of Anderson Township but now working in an Orlando, Fla., architecture firm he co-founded, has written a book he can now display on that same coffee table.

The book, titled “Facadomy: A Critique on Capitalism and Its Assault on Mid-Century Modern Architecture,” is published by Process Press, a boutique design publisher Cornetet co-founded with Wes Featherston, who is also his design partner at Process Architecture, LLC. (Facadomy is an architectural slang term referring to the application of a surface decoration that erodes the character of the original structure.)

Cornetet explains that he researched and wrote the text – which he uses in studio courses he teaches in Florida – because he himself wanted to have a better understanding of the role of architecture in the world. “And,” he adds, “As I’m the co-principal in a firm, I wanted to define the process of our firm and analyze our ideas in a critical way.”

The book’s overall arc focuses on why architectural movements rise and fall and how dynamic market forces have affected and will affect the future of architecture in the United States. Part of that review examines the Revivalist movement of the late 19th century. That review is extended to an examination of the current global economic decline and the effect it has already had on some of the architecture being produced today.

Central to “Facadomy” is Cornetet’s analysis of the economic roots of Mid-Century Modernism, the movement that shaped modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965. Mid-Century Modernism emerged as a response to many of the same problems and challenges we face today: population growth, limited resources and financial decline and hardship. In other words, the harsh economic reality of the Great Depression led to a design ethos that responded to that market by focusing on spare, precise designs of best functional value and rationed resources vs. design replete with embellishment, excess and surface decoration (from earlier and later eras).

For example, the expanses of glass storefront common in Modernism reached out to acknowledge the speed of passing automobiles. Mid-Century Modernism was the architectural style that celebrated commerce.

According to Cornetet, “The Great Depression legitimized Modernism as people became increasingly aware of the cost and value in everything they purchased and consumed. This continued even in the years after the Depression ended, as those who lived through it still had fresh memories of those hardships.”

Similarly, today, as the Great Recession’s toll on the economy is still felt and concerns related to sustaining resources continue to grow, value-driven design – where function and value are integrated into every element of a building design – is emerging. It is more in tune with the rationale and values consciousness of Modernism, aware that the earth’s resources are limited and that we should use them in a way that yields the greatest value.

Cornetet wrote the text as an outgrowth of his role as an adjunct professor of architecture at two Florida institutions and hopes the book will appeal to architects, students of architecture, developers, historians and “anyone interested in architecture and its relationship to the economy, society and culture in the U.S. The profession of architecture is at a crossroads. Talking about the value added to building by architects is the most important issue the profession faces right now.”

He intends “Facadomy” as a real-world analysis of how economic forces are integral to the cycles that emerge, mature and eventually ebb within design. “The role of the architect is defined by choice. As architects, we can either create architecture regardless of the market or accept the fact that architecture has a responsibility to respond to and even support capitalism. The world is changing in a big way, and capitalism and the economic forces of change it represents can never be stationary.”

He adds that the model of design movement (emergence, maturity and ebbing design philosophies and styles) and then counter movements in response (which also emerge, mature and ebb in their turn) is essential to economic growth through the creation of new social goods and markets. So, capitalism shapes design and vice versa.

“We can either fail to respect the market or we can embrace these forces as integral to every project. By doing the latter, we will thrive as a profession. We can learn a lot from IKEA and Wal-Mart and their sensitivity to the marketplace. Architecture is as much a product as an art form.”

Cornetet focuses on how Modernism emerged in response to economic and resource restrictions because it (Modernism) marked a turning point in the history of American design. For the first time, the United States was looking to the future, to taking a leading position and being in the forefront of design and the arts. “Modernism was America’s first avant-garde,” he states.

With the completion of his book project, Cornetet opines that he himself is at a turning point and looking to the future: “When I graduated from UC, I had a number of professional goals that I wanted to reach before turning 30. Those included getting licensed, starting my own firm, earning my first major commission and writing a book.”

He quips, “I’m a year late with the book, but now that the project is complete, I guess I can now start on my list for age 40.”

“Facadomy” is available at American Institute of Architects (AIA) conventions and was No. 1 on the hot new releases list for architecture criticism on Amazon in July. It reached as high as No. 7 among Amazon best sellers on Amazon’s architecture criticism list.

In addition to his work at Process Architecture, Cornetet’s critiques on architecture and society have been published in the German architecture publication Bauwelt, YAF Connection and AIA Florida’s Florida/Caribbean Architect. Cornetet is an adjunct professor of architecture at Valencia College and the University of Central Florida School of Architecture. He received both his baccalaureate and master’s degrees in architecture from UC’s School of Architecture and Interior Design. He is a LEED accredited professional and is licensed to practice architecture in the State of Florida.

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