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Journalist Attacks Fortress Architecture

A recent Wall Street Journal article on architectural trends has evoked a strong response from Washington Post columnist Roger K. Lewis. Entitled "A House for the New Millennium," the Journal article reports a new phenomenon of "fortress-style" homes with towers and turrets; enclosed courtyards; locked gates; and tall, narrow windows. Responding in the Post's Real Estate Section, Lewis argues that this architectural style is not only impractical but beyond the budget of the average homeowner. Even more disturbing, says Lewis, is the unfortunate isolationist trend among builders toward gated communities and gated homes.

"The neo-fortress style reflects concerns about privacy and security," according to the Journal article by June Fletcher. There's no room in the new age, neo-fortress home for features from the "showy houses of the 80s." Gone are Palladian windows; large common areas; and open, two-story floor plans with "soaring ceilings," says Fletcher. What's in? Single-story plans with numerous defined rooms and walled courtyards.

Lewis worries that people will think that the neo-fortress style is universal and suitable for any homeowner. Quite to the contrary, one-level courtyard homes are more expensive to build than typical configurations because they require more roof area and wall surfaces to enclose the interior space. At prices typically around $1 million and up in many places, Lewis questions whether this design trend reflects the tastes of millionaires rather than average homeowners. While there's nothing wrong with architectural features such as courtyards, towers, and narrow windows, these design elements should be applied in moderation. Furthermore, a courtyard home may be a poor choice for colder climates--imagine yourself scraping ice off the walkways. Maybe the courtyard could double as an ice skating rink in winter?

Perhaps the most extreme example of fortress mentality, says Lewis, is the Florida home with two turrets accessed by circular stairs and a fireman's pole. "The client," noted the builder, "thought it would be great for the grandchildren to be able to shoot their BB guns out the window, then slide down the pole."