Friday, October 7, 2011

Shifting the Suburban Paradigm


Is there anything made in America that’s less innovative than the single-family home? While we obsess over the new in terms of what we keep in our houses — the ever-increasing speed and functionality of our Smartphones, entertainment options built into refrigerators, sophisticated devices that monitor, analyze and report on our sleep cycles, even the superior technology of the running shoes we put on before heading out the flimsy fiberboard door — we’re incredibly undemanding of the houses themselves. These continue to be built the same way they have for over a century, and usually not as well. Walls and windows are thin, materials cheap, design (and I use the term loosely) not well-considered. The building process is a protracted affair, taking far too long and creating embarrassing amounts of building waste (over 50 percent of all waste produced in the United States, in fact).
But the lack of innovation extends beyond the high-tech. Not so long ago homes were designed to make the most of their surrounding climate and terrain. Vernacular forms like the shotgun, in places like New Orleans, served a purpose that went far beyond aesthetics — they encouraged natural cooling by improving cross-ventilation. In Texas and New Mexico, thick adobe walls similarly kept heat in during the winter, and out during the summer. Houses were sited and windows placed to maximize or minimize sun exposure as needed.
No longer. Today, it’s essentially the same floor plan, sheetrock and construction that’s used coast to coast. Glossy brochures with stock images of smiling families advertise “Spanish Gothic” or “Tuscan Villa,” but what’s really on offer is the same dumb box with a stage set of a façade tacked onto the front. The reasons behind the advertised vernacular styles have long since disappeared, their function surrendered to ornament.

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more about suburbia:

Development at the Urban Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land

Compact Sprawl Experiments Four Strategic Densification Scenarios for Two Modernist Suburbs in Stockholm

Evaluating urban ambience – an investigation into quantifying the qualities of the walkable city

Neighborhoods: Is East Atlanta Losing Its Soul?


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