Property Type: Commercial
Neighborhood: Downtown  |  County: Ada  |  Building Status: Private  |  Architectural Style: Modernist/International
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This paper is not about Remco Electric. Remco Electric stands in here for the concept of Minimalism in architecture. The basic premises of this style are doing more with less, form following function, and emphasis on the vertical and horizontal. The specifics of the building are less relevant to architecture than the general principles. The front of Remco Electric Is a plain white face, wider than it is long, interrupted only by dark brown trim surrounding sparse windows and a single door. Its sign hangs above the door, cracking with age and surely resident to a good number of bugs, equidistant from both sides of the door. It is a rectangle. It is simple, direct, and accomplishes its job: telling us the name of the store.
This building has one uncharacteristic element. It has a slight façade, with two ninety degree turns creating a vertical line in the middle of the horizontal roof. It has one outstanding architectural feature, and it is enough. This project, and the search for architecture in Boise tries to draw out the exceptional, and to put on a pedestal the ornate and artificial. This building does not have complex gabling or a vaulted ceiling. It has honest exteriors and a small footprint. It has plain white walls, paint chipping, an unkempt lawn. Passing this on the street wouldn’t strike you breathless.
There is no artistic merit or architectural merit on the building’s exterior. Minimalism insists that the frame of merit be shifted to the observer. It puts the light of coding and meaning directly in your hands, and you then are allowed the agency to decide what the structure means. If you look at the building and see nothing more than white flat walls and call it boring, that interpretation is no less correct than a view of beauty, but be sure that it is no more correct either. The designer here allowed the building to be whatever it needs to be. Right now it is Remco Electric, right now it is a stand in for a concept, right now it is the subject of this paper. But the building, in its simplicity and modernity is capable of being anything it needs to be. This works literally and figuratively. Literally, the building could be an aquarium shop just as well as it could be an electric service center, or an apartment in the middle of downtown if that is what you choose. Figuratively, this building has many more possibilities. This can be a boring piece of plain nothingness, or a criticism of wealth, or a temple. Examples do not serve the purpose here, but the point was made heavy-fisted enough already. Other styles do not allow such flexibility. The Idanha building will always be the Idanha, and will always stand for its era.
Speaking strictly architecturally, the building is technically a Modernist piece of architecture, which also fits its time of construction (1945). The mid 40’s and 50’s saw a birth of the modernist minimalism, moving constantly away from complexity and unnecessary ornateness present in the prior Art Deco style. It is almost a satire of the purely decorative nature of Art Deco. It accomplishes the same ends as Art Deco while avoiding the meaningless addons. The building says that there is no need for endless arching and triangle jamming. The artists of the time were upset with the lack of a philosophy or guiding principle behind Art Deco, and as such abandoned everything in search of one. They abandoned so thoroughly that eventually the modernists were accused of being sterile and dehumanizing.
The charge of dehumanizing architecture in minimalism is a misguided one. The style does not hope to strip humanity out of the buildings, and in fact hopes to do exactly the opposite. By denying the intrinsic value of style elements, Modernists posit that people gain agency in interpreting. Rather than worshipping complex monoliths, we are left with nothing but ourselves and plain walls. The human is the outstanding architectural feature of Remco Electric. This is manifest in the literal construction of the building. Nothing is present on the front of the building to distract from the sign that shows the owners and trade of the people inside. They have nothing to prove, just the fact that they are there is enough. The people did not see fit to flash peacock feathers with styling. They declined interview for the history of the building because there isn’t any history per se. There is no glorious moment of a celebrity showing up, or massive amounts of remodels, or tie in with a historic event. People worked there. They had slow days, and busy days, and they talked around a water cooler, and they resented their boss sometimes while still realizing he was a nice guy underneath, and they spent some of their lives there without assigning any specific importance to the time. This building is every day. This building represents the every day activities of the people in it, and the everyday routine of every person. A word to describe modernistic architecture that is commonly used it “Machinistic.” The architecture is as much the result of culture as the culture forms around the building. These people spent time in a systematic way, as was everyone during that time period. This building was built in a systematic, sterile way, as was everything during that time period.
Specific to the building there is not much to say. It has square features and white paint. The more important point is that of the major messages it sends through interpretation.
In the end when considering the style, one has to ask themselves what this building means to them, not what it means to history. How has this building affected you? Did its portal to the world of minimalism help you conceptualize a new idea, or did you find this utter nonsense and this building is just boring? To find the building boring, or not detailed enough is offensive to every person. Most lives are not hotbeds of historical action, but they are important to those who experience them. I mean nothing to 99% of this world, but that fraction of a percent is what makes my life mean something. The same applies to this building. Though this building or this architectural style may mean nothing to you, it does to someone, so you should not discount it. The story of Remco Electric isn’t one of spectacle, and it is not so on purpose. It is the tale of mundanity, and appreciation regardless. If you find this building boring, then your life, true to cliché, is boring. You mean just as much as this building does, and your life is just as open to interpretation as Remco Electric.