Accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture At The Savannah College of Art and Design
_______________________________________________________________________ Arpad Ronaszegi, Professor of Architecture, Committee Chair Date ________________________________________________________________________ Scott Singeisen, Professor of Architecture Faculty/Editor Date ________________________________________________________________________ Daniel E. Snyder, AIA, Topic Consultant Date
Individualized Mutability: Reinvestigating Prefabrication as an Alternative to Post Industrial Suburban Sprawl Residential Interventions, Suburbia
A Thesis Statement Submitted to the Faculty of the Architecture Department In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Architecture At The Savannah College of Art and Design
By Mark Ryan Behneman
Savannah, Georgia May, 2010
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Argument
Chapter 2 Prefabulous
Chapter 3 Suburbia
Chapter 4 Anti-Site Analysis
Chapter 5 Program Analysis & Development
Chapter 6 Schematic Site and Building Design
Chapter 7 Design Development
Chapter 8 Conclusion
The objective of this study was to develop a single
family detached residence that could mitigate the negative environmental, economic, and social impacts of postindustrial American suburban sprawl through the siting, design and use of the re-envisioned house.
The development, decline, and reemergence
of prefabrication as a method of home production was investigated to determine why it has continually failed to become the dominant method of home production in America. The emergence, evolution, and long term effects of suburban sprawl were investigated through a number of lenses including historical and theoretical. This lead to separate investigations into the roles played by the development of the automobile and the infrastructure upon which it depends, as well as the influence of zoning in the reproduction of these environments.
It was determined that best approach is to break
the homogeneity of the suburban context by intervening through the insertion of mutable, adaptable, and expandable factory built homes between the existing suburban homes. Three schemes for narrow homes that are organized along and within datum walls were developed to respond to changes in occupant need and number.
â€œYou never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.â€? 1
R. Buckminster Fuller
Since humanity has lived in cities, a certain
percentage of the population has lived outside of the city on the suburban fringe. Evidence of this pattern can be found dating back to the Mesopotamian city of Ur. This way of life however, remained an aristocratic luxury reserved for a privileged few, and was not until the housing boom following World War II that suburban development emerged as the dominant pattern of growth in America. This shift from predominantly urban to increasingly exurban growth was made possible by
Notes 1 Douglas Farr, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban design with nature (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2008), 31.
the advancement of the individually owned automobile. Initially, both the suburban housing development and the car offered the best solution to a housing crisis, and in many ways improved the American quality of life. However, the long-term effects of suburban sprawl have proven environmentally, socially, and economically unsustainable.
Global warming, climate change, the mortgage
crisis, and the economic meltdown were all partly created by the same assumption of endless resources the led America to pursue the dream of a suburban house for
everyone. The scale of these crises are now global. The status quo has become untenable.
The contemporary concept of prefabricated
housing developed concurrently with the postwar subdivision as a response to the same demand for housing, but for a number of reasons failed to compete. Recently the design community has been searching for a more meaningful and sustainable alternative to the typical suburban home. As a result prefabricated housing has re-emerged. Along with the flexibility and variety through standardization they initially offered, these factory produced systems have the potential to address the social, economic, and environmental issues created by suburban sprawl.
Critics of sprawl have performed a thorough and
insightful analysis of the twentieth century American suburb. Many of the alternatives they suggest however, reject forward-looking solutions in lieu of nostalgic imitations of pre-automobile neighborhoods, and cities that awkwardly attempt to sever the connection with the larger, and still automobile-centric context. Because New Urbanist solutions do not develop organically over time, traditional neighborhood developments often manifest as blank parodies that feel as disingenuous as the places they were developed to combat.
The mutability provided by mass customization
accommodates and encourages change. An adaptable, expandable, and user mutable house assembled from a system of prefabricated modular components possesses this potential to be repurposed with minimal effort and waste. Like the collage city the collage house is meant to
develop in layers overtime. The beauty of collage is that it enables recognizable parts to be recontextualized into new identities with minimal manipulation. This approach encourages each iteration to focus on ameliorating issues specific to its context as opposed to developing an ahistorical and final utopian solution. The final goal of which is a residence that would encourage the reintegration and re-urbanization of American society without abandoning symbolism, meaning, and culture.
Systems of interchangeable mass customized
parts can readily be designed to provide individual homeowners with the ability to accommodate growth and change through the iterative manipulation of the portion of their built environment over which they have the greatest control. This notion rejects the modernist ideas of universal need and the continuity of use that were often metaphorically referred to as a machines. If the number of actors present in a suburban neighborhood possessed this ability to mutate their homes based on their individual needs, desires and tastes, the result would be a pluralism that would resemble Rowe and Koetterâ€™s collage city on a domestic scale. Not only would this collage approach satisfy practical needs, but the nature of gestalt assemblage would also satisfy the human desire for fantasy, chaos, and excitement.
An investigation of sprawl type suburban
development as evolved following WWII, provides understanding of the ideological context and the meaning of â€˜homeâ€™. Similarly, an investigation of the development and decline of prefabrication in the 20th century elucidates how the seemingly best solution failed to become the predominant mode of production in the
The focus of this investigation is of the potential
of the house to recontextualize its larger suburban context by providing alternatives to be inserted into existing suburban neighborhoods and introduce a vital heterogeneity.
Three expandable and mutable single family
detached houses, each comprised of a similar series of off-site built assemblages were developed. The proposed buildings are not intended to serve as prototypes to be mass-produced with repetitive plans and appearances as was the role of prefab in the 20th century. Instead they are conceived to promote the emerging off-site building fabrication industry, and explore the potential of mass-customization rather than mass-production to propose possible solutions for contemporary middle-class American housing. The goal of which is to examine the possibility of remediating the fractured suburban context through siting, design and use on the scale of the reenvisioned home rather than that of the master plan.
The Prefabulous Forties
The size of the market is what promoted the
large-scale manufacture of the automobile, and in turn permitted the kind of tooling and productive processes that enabled the American automobile manufacturer to 2
make high-value cars at a relatively low cost. The same population that was financing the rise of the automotive industry was also in the market for homes. Designers and industrialists quickly began to explore the potential of the automobile manufacturing model to be applied to home
Notes 2 Franklin M. Reck, A Car-Traveling People: How the Automobile Has Changed the Life of Americans - A Study of Social Effects. (Detroit: Automobile Manufacturers Association, 1955), 46.
production as well.
Several prototypes for prefabricated housing,
such as Buckminster Fullerâ€™s 1927 Dymaxion House, were introduced to the public before the war. Housing production in the 30â€™s was low however, and these prototypes were too expensive to produce as it was not feasible to manufacture them in a number large enough to benefit from mass-production. The marketing of early prefab prototypes was successful however, and was remembered by designers and homebuyers alike when demand for housing soared to unprecedented heights
following the second world war.
Before the war ended the impending housing
crunch was apparent. The September 1942 issue of Architecture Forum was called the house for 194x, The article assumed that prefabrication was the best means to satisfy this demand, but predicted that it would be difficult to persuade the public to abandon their preconceived domestic notions and embrace a modern aesthetic.
Works from over 30 famous architects including SOM and Neutra, were selected exploring many solutions including; panel and structural assemblies, and modular units of interchangeable parts. These projects were able to demonstrate the potential for variety within 4
standardization. Popular home magazines explored and promoted prefabricated housing as well. From 1944 to 1946 The Ladies Home Journal began commissioning and publishing proposals for “factory built” houses from top architects. These proposals displayed the variety and flexibility that was predicted to result from the application of the same type of mass-production processes that had expanded choice, and lowered costs in automobiles, 5
Notes 3 David Smiley, “Making the Modified Modern,” Perspecta vol. 32 (2001): 44.
clothing, and appliances. Elizabeth Mock, editor of the Ladies Home Journal, promoted prefabrication for its capacity to bring innumerable possible combinations 6
to the house buying public. In these articles, and
many others like them the use of standardized and
5 Ibid., 42.
interchangeable parts was promoted to produce multi-use
7 Ibid., 40. 8 Ibid.
Department stores and home expositions
developed consumer interest in factory produced
9 Ibid., 47.
housing by displaying small scale and full scale models
of prefabricated housing designs. A full scale model of
a plywood prefabricated home was on display at the well attended National Modern Homes Exposition that took place at Grand Central Palace in New York City In 7
May of 1946. Like the expo promoters, the department stores were at the forefront of recognizing the potential of prefabricated housing in the postwar market. Wanamakers, Gimbel’s, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s all 8
regularly displayed models of prefabricated designs. The primary goal of these expositions and displays was to promote new ways of planning furnishing and equipping homes, but they also introduced prefabrication to a larger audience by presenting it among these.
By the 50’s, interest in prefab had begun to
fade. Some elements of pseudo-individualization and individuality were incorporated into the builder model by providing standard plans with customizable elevations 9
and limited material choices. One major reason the subdivision prevailed over the factory-produced house is that the house is only part of a much more complex package. If a homebuyer were to purchase a prefabricated house they would be responsible to acquire a site, provide a plot survey, zoning, soil information, and deal with building and fire code officials. This is all assuming that streets, utilities, and sewers are already in place. (Figure 1) Conversely if that homebuyer were to buy their home from a developer they would only need to provide a signature and a deposit, and if that homebuyer was a veteran no deposit was required. (Figure 2) Purchasing a prefabricated home required the buyer to hire a number of professionals or assume those duties themselves, the developer however only asked that the 10
homebuyer be a consumer.
Provides the Building Only
Delivered to Site Assembled or as a Kit-of-Parts
Purchases Home & Site Separately
Architect, Engineer & Contractor Prepare the Site
Purchased & Developed Separately
Developer led House
Ready to Occupy
Provides Signature & Deposit
Provides the Whole Package
with Utilites & Roads in Place
Factory & Architect led
Factory & Architect Colaborate to Provide The Whole Package
House & Site Base Model on Prepared Lot
Purchases space as resources allow
Provides Additional Custom Parts for Mutable Space
Connection to the site is the reason that housing
production will always remain a different kind of industry than automobile or product manufacturing. At some point in its production the factory produced house must be shipped and attached to the earth, and as was pointed out 11
by William Levitt, it is not possible to prefabricate a site. A
Notes 11 Smiley, 47.
hybrid between developer and factory-produced housing systems would offer the benefits of both. This solution would give the homebuyer the potential to buy a ready-tooccupy home, while providing the flexibility to add space as needed, and the mutability to change that space as desired. (FigureÂ 3)
In this proposed model the homebuyer would
begin by meeting with an architect to determine the number type and arrangement of spaces needed for the initial phase of inhabitancy of their new home. The architect would then work closely with the factory to
provide the information needed to manufacture the desired building. At the same time the home is being constructed in controlled conditions at the factory the selected site would be simultaneously prepared. Upon completion the modules would then be delivered to the site and attached to a permanent foundation and tied into utilities. Later as conditions require and finances permit the homeowner may easily expand and alter their home through the addition and relocation of customizable parts specified by the architect and produced by the factory.
Traditional Modern and the Collage House
Popular home magazines played a large role in
the development of the domestic culture industry that took place in the 40’s. In particular they promoted the traditional versus modern debate. From this debate, and numerous reader opinion polls, a hybrid middle-class dwelling emerged that was a modern interior containing open plans, numerous large windows, flexibility and efficient storage, which were all wrapped in a traditional 12
looking facade. A larger scale version of this “modern,
Notes 12 Smiley, 41.
but without the look” hybrid has evolved to become what we know today as the “McMansion”.
A similar debate was occurring in the design
community, and as a result the tenets of domestic modernism were split into moieties. One faction emphasized production; modular units, standardization and factory fabrication. The other focused on effortless inhabitation; flexibility, open plans, and efficient storage. The aesthetic of tectonic modernism was derived theoretically from its process of manufacture, and therefore could not be conceptually divorced from a
modern appearance throughout. Conversely the socially derived inhabitation model was easily hybridized with traditional house typologies as it was based on how the 13
American public expressed that it wanted to live. Many designers, such as Buckminster Fuller and Charles Eames, felt that the public would embrace the modern prefab house once it had become better designed. The companies producing prefabricated houses at the time however, responded to the public opinion being expressed in the popular magazines and began producing prefab 14
houses with traditional appearances. The failure of designers and fabricators to collaborate prevented either’s solution from achieving the design or aesthetic qualities they both partially recognized the public desired.
The editors at popular magazines were able to
recognize the “Both-And” within the traditional versus modern debate. Their solution was to promote the modern house as if it were a catalogue of parts; roofs, windows, kitchens, baths, appliances, furniture, could be picked individually and assembled like a collage. The modern house transitioned from “a machine for living in” into a
Notes 13 Smiley, 42. 14 Ibid., 45. 15 Ibid., 43.
sum of favorable attributes or desired experiences chosen ad-hoc by the individual.
The suburban home developed into an amalgam
— a modern plan wrapped in a faux-traditional facade. These explorations suggest reversing this paradigm and incorporating the most crucial aspect of the traditional plan. That is the gradual, careful, and purposeful separation between public and private spaces, which would then be enveloped by materials and methods which represent the cutting-edge of production at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Mass Customization > Mass Production
Mass production was the ideal of the twentieth
century. The theoretical and practical basis for prefabricated construction was sameness. Modular construction today no longer presumes mass production. The greatest advantage of mass customization is that it does not depend on quantity to be a cost effective method of building construction. This provides the ability to differentiate architecture based on site, use and personal preference.
Notes 16 Stephen Kieran & James Timberlake, Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies Are Poised to Transform Building Construction. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 111-113. 17 Ibid., 113. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid., 119. 20 Ibid., 73-89. 21 Ibid., 75.
Eighty to ninety percent of the work to build many 17
custom structures can now be performed off-site. Recent developments in the prefabrication industry already provide the capability to build off site in nearly all common building materials, including wood, steel, concrete, and masonry. What is yet to be developed is the vision and will to create a(n) (r)evolutionary architecture with it.
Process plays a large role in determining outcome
of any product. Therefore to truly effect change in architecture, a new vision of process is needed, not just a new product. A precedent for this type of revolutionary
process was the development of the balloon frame, which was a new method of assembly rather than a new material, that transformed residential architecture in the united states during the later half of the nineteenth 19
The type of processes here proposed are already
standard practice in other industries that produce large artifacts. Cars, ships and airplanes are no longer made on a single assembly line they way the were in the days of Henry Ford. Today production is tiered into the construction of a series of integrated component assemblies; individual pieces are made into assemblies, assemblies are put together to form modules, modules are put together into blocks, and blocks are assembled in the final moments to form the whole. Each one of these tiered processes occurs on itâ€™s own assembly line with each piece, assembly, module and block being inspected before it moves to the next phase.
The assembly of blocks or modules is
advantageous because it does not demand that
Notes 19 Kieran & Timberlake, 119. 20 Ibid., 73-89. 21 Ibid., 75. 22 Ibid., 57. 23 Ibid., 77.
construction processes be performed from the ground up. The construction process therefore no longer has to be linear. Different segments can be produced simultaneously to reduce construction time. Further elements can be rotated and repositioned to make access easier for workers. Also these elements are built indoors in controlled conditions without the need for weather stoppages. Tools and equipment are available nearby, and workspace is less crowded.
Assembling a building in this way would be
analogous to quilting. Once a conceptual system exists
the elements of the quilt, the building modules and assemblies in this case, can be fabricated in any order and assembled following a simple set of rules about size, material, connection and design. This would allow a number of individual manufacturers to design and make pieces of the building relatively independent of each other. Much the way a quilt is assembled from individually made patches at a quilting bee.
By applying this process to architecture, the useful
life of buildings can be extended by providing them with a higher level of mutability. While the shell may have a useful life of thirty to fifty years or more, many of the smaller assemblies contained within may have a much shorter useful life of only five to ten years. By using smart modules that are intentionally not integrated into the larger whole, future exchange can be facilitated.
The design explorations that follow explore the
potential of these new processes to produce suburban homes that are able to adapt through the addition and substitution of these types of factory produced assemblies.
The Role of the Ethical Architect
With the adoption of this new construction
process, the architectural profession is presented with the opportunity to elevate its importance, relevance and value to its clients as a whole. The design-bid-build model has been promoted as a way to protect the architectâ€™s liability and the clientâ€™s interest. In reality however, it has rendered the architect impotent, and has mislead the client about the level of chaos inherit in this model.
Notes 24 Kieran & Timberlake, 115. 25 Ibid., 59.
Architects made the switch from the drafting board
to the computer decades ago, however the deliverables they produced following this shift changed very little. What is produced is an incomplete and often inconsistent representation of the desired building. As a result trial and error in the field is often used throughout the conventional building process. When parts do not fit, the mismatched construction is either removed and rebuilt, or else different parts are substituted.
Often this results in additional
costs which the client is often asked to incur. This standard of reasonable care is scarcely an ethical model for a profession to follow into the twenty-first century.
With the availability of Building Information
Modeling (BIM), collaboration and communication software, it is feasible and imperative that architects provide the level and amount of information necessary to allow architecture to achieve the precision, quality, speed, and cost control that is commonplace in other complex product producing industries.
To achieve these desired results, completely
simulated complex computer models will have to take the place of large sets of two-dimensional drawings. The advantages of these models over traditional construction documents is that all the parts of the building are known and all the joints are depicted in such a way that everything can be seen from all points of view.
same information can then be used by the manufacturer to produce the building within tolerances, budgets, and time constraints that well exceed the expectations of stickbuilt construction. All of this results in better service to clients and a higher-quality product.
â€œFrom its inception the chief characteristic of the American suburb was not of an organically real town, nor a civic place, but a place of fantasy and escape.â€? James Howard Kunstler
Into the wilderness
Throughout civilization populations have
coalesced into dense centralized developments. As societies developed these settlements grew and invested in complex and vast infrastructures eventually becoming cities. The cost as well as the benefits of constructing streets, sewers, parks and plazas, from Mohenjo-Daro to the twentieth century metropolis, were shared equally by the residents of that city, creating a sense of community and defining the public realm. Notes 26 James Howard Kunstler, Home From Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 32.
American cities, unlike their European
antecedents, were not considered pleasant places to be, conversely they were thought of as something to be avoided. This may be because American cities developed at the behest of industry rather than people, and as a result the term urban became pejorative, associated with a host of undesirable aspects of American city life in the industrial era. This negative connotation persists today, but for a host of different reasons that continue to associate the notion of things urban with that of crime, squalor and despair. In cities across the nation, rapid
development occurred on an industrial rather than a human scale. In many cases public space feels like an 27
afterthought that is made up from what was leftover. This apparent lack of consideration for the human experience is compounded by the fact that many American cities are laid out upon a relentless and mind-numbing large block grid. By the middle of the twentieth century Americans had come to regard their cities as places merely for work and vice, and the antithetical suburb as the only place suitable enough to make a home and raise a family.
American mythology has been dominated by a
sort of Frontier Fetish. Kunstler suggests that consistent with this preoccupation the model for the suburban home emerged as an amalgam of two colonial models, the log cabin in the wilderness and the southern plantation 29
in the park. He states â€œFrom its inception the chief characteristic of the American suburb was not of an organically real town, nor a civic place, but a place 30
of fantasy and escape.â€? This inception occurred at Llewellyn park in New Jersey during the year 1853,
Notes 27 Kunstler, 25-27. 28 Ibid., 44. 29 Ibid., 31. 30 Ibid., 32. 31 Franklin M. Reck, A Car-Traveling People: How the Automobile Has Changed the Life of Americans - A Study of Social Effects. (Detroit: Automobile Manufacturers Association, 1955), 8. 32 Kunstler, 28. 33 Ibid. 34 Reck, 16.
and later at Riverside outside Chicago Illinois in 1869, where for the first time abstractions of these archetypical frontier homes were assembled into planned suburban developments to satisfy this romantic fantasy.
“It gave us a sense of freedom, a feeling of independence, and a means of escape from the monotony of everyday life.” 31
Franklin M Reck
A Dream Come True
The individual dwelling in the natural landscape has
always been viewed as the antidote to the horror of the 32
industrial city. It is America’s seemingly endless supply of undeveloped land that has allowed for the abstract 33
realization of this fantasy for half a millennium. In a report prepared by the Automobile Manufactures Association to be presented to Congress, which interpreted the social effect of the Automobile, the author Franklin Reck states, “It gave us a sense of freedom, a feeling of independence, and a means of escape from the monotony of everyday 31
life.” During the time between the wars the automobile made possible vast improvements in medical care, mail delivery, farming, and schools. These improvements made the greatest impact on those Americans living outside of the city by providing access to a larger radius of goods and services than was possible with a horse and buggy. Before the car the general store had a monopoly based on proximity. The automobile allowed people to shop within a much larger radius providing them with greater choice and 34
canceling that monopoly. The success of the big box store has reversed this paradigm using the automobile based
consumer’s far reach to undercut all smaller competitors until the only choice is to drive. Thus fewer and better choices have given way to scarce, mediocre and ubiquitous.
The Automobile was celebrated for the role it
played in the homogenization of society. Particularly the erasure of the differences in speech dress and manner that were common between rural and urban people. The father of cultural landscape studies J.B. Jackson lauded the sprawling new landscape of highways, filling stations 35
and car lots as the new American vernacular. Jackson, like Reck, believed that the car would bring American society closer together and create a more cohesive culture. Few would argue the result has been anything but the opposite.
Notes 35 John Brinckerhoff Jackson, “The Future of the Vernacular,” in Understanding Ordinary Landscapes, ed. Paul Groth and Todd W. Bressi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 154. 36 Kunstler, 32. 37 Ibid., 38.
Waking up from the Dream
In the 20’s and 30’s the automobile “pulled us
out of the mud”. Today it has put us in traffic, polluted our environment and bankrupted our economy. The same rationale that led middle-class America to justify living beyond its means financially has also encouraged it to live beyond its means environmentally. Suburban development has hidden and outsourced its economic, environmental, social and psychological consequences. As a result it has reinforced a notion of a freedom from the repercussions of one’s behavior that has become the hallmark of the American psyche.
With the rise of globalization, America has
expanded the burden created by its untenable system to the rest of the world. Financial resources that could have been allocated to produce denser, more functional public spaces have been diverted to supply the vast and costly apparatus that connects low-density development. The lack of a perceptible public realm in the places where most Americans live, work, and shop, has in turn contributed to the inability of Americans to consider the
common good. As a result of these issues Americans began to regard themselves as consumers rather than citizens. The problem with this attitude is that consumers, unlike citizens, have no responsibilities, obligations, or duties to anything beyond their own needs and 38
desires. The American dream mutated from a set of ideas about liberty to a more materialistic notion of the suburban house and all its trappings. This dream was the anticipated reward for hard work and sacrifice following WWII. As the costs of the suburban house continue to exceed the grasp of an increasingly larger number of American families, the dream is morphing again, this time into an entitlement or even a birthright.
The lack of a larger construct to establish the
idea of a common good has left only the idea that the marketplace is the sole arbiter of what makes life worth living. This deficiency has lead to people spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to prove that they are better than others by accumulating objects with which they associate an increasing amount of their identities.
Notes 38 Kunstler, 38.
This has led to the amassing of a mountain of
debt that as individuals and a society America will likely never be able to repay.
39 Ibid., 33.
40 ibid., 61.
provide a higher quality, less costly and more quickly built
41 Kieran & Timberlake, 21.
Off-site fabrication offers the opportunity to 41
alternative to the traditional â€œstick-builtâ€? home. Further, by promoting future expansion through expandable modules and updatable assemblies the home buyer is able to buy only what meets his or her immediate needs with the assurance that they will be able to expand their home as requirements change and finances permit.
Principal to Interest Paid
$100,000 $400,000 $200,000
Full 30 Years
9% APR 8% APR 7% APR 6% APR
Even at Historically Low-Rates, At Least Half of the Homebuyer’s Remmittance is Interest
First 7 Years
Mortgages Are Structured So That Mostly Interest is Amortized first.
Costs of a 30 Year Fixed Mortgage Based on the 2008 Mean American Home Sale Price
This system would also ensure that a larger
amount of the resources Americans devote to purchasing a home be used to pay for the building as opposed to financing charges. According to census data the average price of a new home sold in the United States in 2008 was $292,600. A home buyer financing that home with a traditional 30 year mortgage at the currently low rate of about 5% would pay a total of $565,600 for that home. Nearly half of which was paid to financiers who added nothing to the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the home. (Figure 4)
The median income of a 4 person family in the
united states in 2008 was $67,000. The monthly payment for the average house (principal and interest only) would be $1,571.26 making the average family’s debt to income ratio equal to the typical limit of .28 before taxes and insurance are even factored in. Plainly stated, the average American family can no longer qualify for a mortgage to
Debt to 5 85 ge 8, ga $1 ort M
% in 28 ous H
0 40 3, $1 ars C
Rec Deb urring t
Required By Lender
In 2008 The Average American Family of 4 Had an Income of $67,000. Mortgage Price is Based on a $292,000 Home 30 Year Fixed at a 5% APR
Lenders Use a Debt to Income Ratio To Qualify Buyers For Loans. The Average American Family Can Not Afford The Average American Home.
Figure 5 purchase the average American home. (FigureÂ 5)
The average American moves eleven times in their
lifetime. This means that many borrowers are likely to live in the home they purchased for a period substantially shorter than the thirty year term of the loan. As mortgages are amortized with mostly interest being paid at the beginning of the term, it is likely that the homebuyer will pay more than three times in interest what they pay to the principal balance of their loan. (FigureÂ 5)
A house that initially provides only what the
homebuyer needs, and allows for easy expansion later would help the homeowner to add what they can afford rather than the maximum they can finance. By limiting exposure to financing charges, a larger percentage of the homeowners dollar would be spent on providing a higher quality built environment, rather than supporting a banking industry.
Sign Value & Pastiche
The postwar American suburb is the physical
manifestation of the metanarrative of the American Dream. This grand narrative is continually reproduced because it provides working class Americans with a common history, trajectory, set of goals and standard for determining success. This success has largely been signified by the possession of a large home sited behind an expansive lawn located outside, but within reach of, the city. Therefore a larger home, with a more expansive
Notes 42 John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an Introduction (Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2009), 187. 43 Ibid., 186.
lawn, in a further removed locale, equates to the greater worth of the individuals who inhabit it. Possession of this artifact affords the owner what the French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu refers to as social capital.
The suburban home provides its owner social
capital via its sign value. Sign value is dominant in postindustrial societies, because, as according to French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the focus is on the production of information rather than the production 42
of things. Thus the ability of the suburban home to
signify those meanings, which give it value to the owner such as: success, escape from responsibility, safety, family, and a connection to ‘nature’; are more important than the quality of the physical building, its utility or its performance. This need to signify encourages the ever increasing assumption of massive debt, possessiveness, and territoriality that characterize the American suburban lifestyle.
Further this has lead to the stratification of the
American middle class, because these neighborhoods are highly segregated by price, sometimes with differences as little as $50,000 between tiers. The classification of individuals based on the price of homes in the development where they live creates a class struggle amongst people who would usually be considered members of the same class.
In most societies, the construction of a house
is a profound cultural act. Typically the dwelling is the single largest expenditure of an individual’s resources. Historically, in response to this demand, homes have been
produced with great care to preserve and advance cultural histories, traditions, and meanings. By allowing the home
43 Storey, 186.
to be commodified, homebuyers have surrendered their
individual histories and cultures. Further, by assuming the passive role of the consumer, they have become subject to a homogenized, monolithic, consumer capitalist simulation. This supports Baudrillard’s claim that we have reached a stage in social and economic development in which it is no longer possible to separate the economic or productive realm from the realm of ideology or culture, since cultural artifacts have become part of the world of the economic.
The Postwar American suburb, and its single-
family detached residence are therefore simulacra. They are copies of a copy without an original. No one can claim to own the original McMansion, nor would they gain anything by doing so. Originality has no inherit value in the hyperreal. According to Baudrillard, it has become impossible and irrelevant to distinguish between the original and a copy in post-industrial societies. Simulation is the process where the real and the imaginary 44
continually collapse onto each other. In the hyperreal the distinction between simulation and the real implodes. The emergence of the suburban mini-mansion is and example of this type of collapse or implosion.
The repeated recombination of the log cabin, and
plantation archetypes has produced the hyperreal home being propagated throughout suburbia today. Countless variations on this model have been reproduced, not for an affinity with the ‘historical’ models the metanarrative has constructed to contextualize and legitimize its identity, but rather as symbols for fantasy, escape, and security, which the hyperreal suburb has been able to provide on a level far greater than any of its ‘real’ referents. This is characteristic of the hyperreal to seem more real than reality, to outperform reality, and eventually replace it as a heightened new standard for reality to achieve.
By arranging a large number of these homes into
‘neighborhoods’ and ‘communities’, the developer has, in effect, produced a new reality, which extends beyond the envelope of the home into the surrounding landscape. To produce the desired sign value, and by doing so increase its worth to the consumer, the developer has created a fragmented context, where, unlike a real neighborhood
Belonging to a
Irregular rooflines suggest multiple additions to pretend to have evolved over time
Ramshackle agglomeration is the result of generations of use and modification
Figure 6 or community, contains only single family detached residences of a similar style and size. This modified version of reality has grown so ingrained in the American psyche that it was officially sanctioned by zoning laws, which make it illegal in most places to construct anything else.
Notes 45 Storey, 191-192.
As a result of the traditional versus modern
debate this simulacrum is also the incongruous hybrid of elements from different historical epochs. Architecturally, the typical suburban home can be most simply described as an open twentieth century modern plan wrapped in a faux traditional, nineteenth century looking facade. American political theorist and critic Fredric Jameson refers to this type of historical allusion, imitation, and mimicry as pastiche or blank parody. He is known for his claim that postmodernism is the culture of late multinational capitalism, and that it is the culture of
This pastiche is marked by a failure to be
historical. Time is not presented as a continuum but rather as a perpetual present. This is most evident in the multitude of hips and gables that comprise the irrational rooflines that are the hallmark of the McMansion. (FigureÂ 6)
The new urbanists have explained the emergence
of increasingly complex suburban roof forms as the desire to emulate the skyline of multiple buildings in a denser neighborhood. A tour of any extant nineteenth century residential area would however suggest another interpretation of this puzzling phenomenon. That these complex roofs are echoing the ramshackle appearance of older homes that evolved through multiple additions over decades of continuous use. These alterations took place because the needs of the inhabitants evolved over generations.
These suburban roofs allude to a narrative in
which they never participated. They are themselves a pastiche mimicking the genuine ramshackle appearance of older homes. These excessively complex suburban roofs feign a history with a thinly veiled ruse. This spurious ploy is reproduced not for the cunning of its trick, but for its particularly expressive ability to reproduce sign value. By signifying a history they satisfy the human need of belonging. The ubiquity of this guise indicates the importance of this desire to the American homebuyer. The house must provide more than a utilitarian shelter. It must also provide a sense of belonging by signifying a history.
Houses that mutate in response to inhabitant need
in doing so produce an aesthetic that celebrates their
adaptation and records the history of their inhabitants. By employing contemporary off-site fabrication techniques these transformations can happen quickly occurring multiple times within a generation. This achieves an architectural signification of inhabitant history that is more responsive than that of century old homes in a manner that is equally genuine, but does not require generations to achieve. Further the autobiographical nature of these mutations imbues the home with a sense of individuality that resists commodification.
The expansive suburban home materialized
as the icon of the American Dream by functioning as a symbol. It provides its inhabitants with a great deal more than shelter. It constructs who they are and determines their role within postindustrial American society. The pervasiveness of the economic realm in this society has ultimately led to the commodification of the home. This commodification demands that homes provide an ever increasing level of sign value while simultaneously standardizing their production and appearance. Here the real home and the imagined home collapse upon one another, and the meaning of home becomes hyperreal. This marks the point where the suburban home has metamorphosed from a cultural artifact into a simulacrum.
Pop Goes the Neighborhood
The same lack of variation that results from the
commodification of the home to enhance sign value also characterizes suburbia as a product of popular culture. The design of suburbia is based on external standards that have been diluted to appeal to an invented average. This limits the potential for individualization an innovation. This lack of innovation is exasperated by the self-serving elitism of much of the architectural community who have remained aloof and have largely dismissed the remediation of suburbia as a design problem that is not worthy of their efforts.
Elitism in the architectural establishment has
elevated the custom home to the status of high culture, and has in turn relegated the mass-produced tract home to the lowly rank of popular culture. By dismissing the design of working class housing as being below the profession of architecture, architects and the discipline of architecture serve almost no purpose in the suburbs or the lives of the people who inhabit them. The construction of most of suburbia has been the responsibility of a few large
developers who reproduce the same or similar houses and neighborhoods across a multitude of varying locales. Although these models are reproduced throughout the United States, little to no effort is typically made to respond to differences in climate, landscape, regional materials, or vernacular traditions.
The reason for this lack of regional variation is
that the suburbs, like other aspects of popular culture, have been designed to appeal to the mythical average, and as a result appeal to no one, or no place specifically. The design referents for these places cannot be found in their immediate contexts, rather they defer instead to external standards. The standards for these houses and developments were determined by a competitive process where as successful models were produced, copies were made, metrics were determined and the standards were crystallized. This conformity to external standards results in a system which, similar to Theodor Adorno’s critique of the production of popular music, at best discourages and at worst prohibits individualism and innovation.
According to Adorno, products of the culture
industry employ Pseudo-individualization to disguise their 47
46 Theodor Adorno, “On Popular Music” In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: a Reader. Edited by John Storey. (Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2009): 67.
homogeneity. Suburban developers display a mastery
47 Ibid., 68-69.
homebuyers passive consumers of architecture. Adorno
48 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 216.
would likely suggest that living in such a place would limit
of this technique by offering minor variations in facades, material and color, in addition to a limited number of models. These predigested environments make these
its inhabitant’s ability to imagine the world as it could be, and therefore is performing the purpose of preparing them for the monotony of their working class existence.
“The large window proclaims probity and openness as if the family has nothing to conceal from the outside world.” 47
The homogeneity of the resulting reproduction of
suburban simulacra have imposed hyperreal expectations on human behavior, and have made it necessary to recognize and limit nonconformity. The heightened level of social control produced by suburbia results from discipline enforced through reciprocal scrutiny between neighbors. In this mode of panopticism the suburban home operates simultaneously as both tower and cell. Thus the inhabitants of suburbia have become the principles of their own subjection, and much of their behavior is a disciplined response to appear normal to a self-imposed system of surveillance.
In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault states
that the multitude of panoptic modalities have “made the family the privileged locus of emergence for the disciplinary question of the normal and the abnormal”.
The suburban home, being the principal artifact of the American family, is thus disciplined to appear as normal as possible. Furthermore, this suburban panopticon extends its scrutiny beyond the facades to the inhabitants
of the homes themselves. The very act of raising a family in suburbia can be viewed as a performance of normality in response to this gaze.
At the end of the typical suburban street the
houses are often arranged radially around a cul-de-sac all with each of their facades oriented towards its center. Although no tower stands in the center of the roundabout its presence is still perceived. The denizens of suburbia extend their panoptic gazes upon one another. They watch each other without being seen through their front windows, from behind their curtains and drapes, their stares spreading out across the unobstructed views of their sodded treeless lawns. However at the same time they perceive their neighbor’s reciprocal gaze upon them and their home, and at these moments their tower also becomes a cell.
The design of the typical suburban home is
transformed by panoptic scrutiny as well through the emergence of the ubiquitous picture window. Typically a single large window located in the living room with a view
Notes 49 Witold Rybczynski, Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 6.
to the street the picture window is meant more for viewing in than viewing out, as its view is most often decidedly unpicturesque. It performs a votive function as Witold Rybczynski describes it “The large window proclaims probity and openness as if the family has nothing to conceal from the outside world”
It also functions a stage
for cultural performance by being a place for the display of seasonal decorations such as Christmas trees, and other special objects.
Every station wagon, minivan, and SUV,
necessities for life in these environs, serves a mobile
tower observing, recording behavior, and looking for abnormality. Every trip taken to school, to work, to run an errand, doubles as a reconnaissance mission. Further, certain members of these communities overtly advertise their performance of this policing role by organizing neighborhood watches and posting signs to remind each other that they are being watched. The designers of suburbia have not failed to recognize the potential of these spaces to discipline either. Proponents of newurbanism laude the crime deterrent value of windows observing the public realm, and even refer to them and their scrutinizing potential with the eerie epithet “eyes on the street”.
Like the inhabitants of Jeremy Bentham’s
notorious prison, the inhabitants of suburbia have become the principles of their own subjection. In this context, the homogeneity of cookie cutter houses, ‘traditional’ facades, and well maintained lawns thus represents more than economy, the method of production, or the reproduction of signs. This uniformity is also a disciplined response. It is an attempt to blend in and appear normal in an environment that is under constant surveillance from within. Many neighborhoods seek to maintain and enhance their market value by codifying the appearance of normality through the use of restrictive covenants. In doing so they provide a checklist of red flags for the observer to watch for: the number of ornaments on a lawn, the color and style of the homes, the acceptable dates when Christmas lights may be displayed; the list of prohibited behaviors is seemingly exhaustive. Consistent with Foucault’s view of contemporary society, suburbia is a space that exerts a high degree of social control
dependent upon discipline which is enforced through multiple modes of surveillance.
Attempts to produce alternatives to suburban
sprawl that mitigate its negative social, environmental and economic effects can best address these concerns by breaking the homogeneity of the suburban context. The emergence of mass-customization as a method of production in the twenty-first century promises great potential to accomplish this task by providing greater individualization of the working class American home. The deference to standards would no longer be necessitated by the means of production and innovation would be celebrated rather than discouraged. By introducing a wider range of variety of housing to the suburban context, the ability of the observer to differentiate deviation from the norm would be greatly diminished. Hence, the palpable gaze of the tower would be noticeably mitigated, and a space could be made to accommodate the other. Finally, individualization is the best defense against commodification, which would lessen the demand for sign value and return the home from hyperreality, and increase its significance as a genuine cultural artifact.
“Add automobiles and the city will never again be the same. Buildings will come down, streets will widen, and folks will move to out into the surrounding country. Stores will move to new places. Little corner stores that served the walking shopper will give way to larger stores that serve the riding shopper...arranged in a newer and better pattern.” 50
Franklin M Reck
Rolling on Rubber Tires
The first large suburban developments were
made possible by the development of the railroad and later the electric streetcar. However, automobiles were invented within 10 years of the electric streetcar and as a result they never created a lasting affect on American 51
urban development patterns. Had the urban fringe in America developed around the streetcar, like it did in many European cities, exurban development would have Notes 50 Reck, 5.
remained far more centralized and sprawl would not be the object of contention it is today. The introduction of Henry Ford’s model T in 1907 and his development of
51 Kunstler, 62.
the assembly line by the end of WWI (1918), was the
52 Ibid., 28.
catalyst for the development of the suburban way of life as we recognize it today. The major difference between the automobile, streetcars, and trains, is that the streetcar and the train promoted the centrality of the American city. The car, conversely promoted a centrifugal outwardly 52
expanding pattern of development. A critical moment came at the turn of the twentieth century—America faced
2.4 million 4 million
2.9 million 7 million
Population Growth Per Decade
the choice to either invest in the public realm and improve its deteriorating cities, or embrace the automobile as a mechanism to escape them.
By 1919 the automobile had transitioned from
a recreation to necessity. At that time every state had a highway department and had begun to receive federal 53
subsidies for roadway construction. Investment in Americaâ€™s roads and highways increased annually and,
53 Reck, 6-7.
at the same time, increasingly more Americans acquired
54 Ibid., 19.
cars and fled the city. According to census figures,
55 Ibid., 30.
suburbs only outpaced cities in population growth by a
56 Ibid., 12.
small margin from 1930 to 1940. However, by 1950 the suburbs were growing over twice as fast as the urban 54
core. (FigureÂ 7) Matching this rapid increase in exurban growth was the increase in automobile sales. In the years after automobile production resumed following World War II car registration doubled from 25 million in 55
1945 to 51 million in 1955. These rapid increases in
greenfield development and automobile ownership mark a major shift in suburban history. After this point a large enough percentage of the population had moved out of the cities, and businesses, factories, schools, and other civic institutions began to follow them. They located themselves along the highway and congregated in centers located behind large parking lots. This was the invention of the strip shopping center and the office park. These privately owned spaces became the new public realm.
In suburbia people became accustomed to their
environment being designed around the automobile, and they grew increasingly frustrated with the traffic and parking issues they experienced when they all drove their cars into the city. Suburbia then imposed itself upon the urban core remaking it to be better experienced from behind the wheel. Tenets of conventional urban planning such as a gridded street pattern and connectivity were abandoned. In their place was a scheme of beltways and radial arteries reaching into the urban core. Major streets divided the city into mile square superblocks. The minor streets between them were winding and dead ended, to discourage through traffic. This new pattern not only encouraged more people to take cars into the city, but it also made it more difficult for those still living in the city to get around without a car. This conundrum escalated to the point that it contributed to the abandonment of Americaâ€™s cities by everyone who could afford to do so.
It was recognized by the automobile
manufacturers early on that a car was a major expenditure for the middle class American. The option to pay for cars in installments began as early as 1912.
Initially these loans required that the buyer offer a large down payment and remit the balance in a few installments usually within a year. Seeking to expand their market, share dealers and manufacturers began to offer longer terms and lower down payments. In the 1950s automobile expenditure accounted for 10% of annual household income. Today that figure has doubled and automobiles required for transportation account for nearly 20% 57
of annual household expenditures. Many European automobile manufactures offered smaller, less powerful and inexpensive cars for the working class. American auto dealers took a different approach by developing a used car market to make car ownership affordable to an even larger sector of the population. The used car was 58
Americaâ€™s version of the peopleâ€™s car. This only provided more people with the means to move into the rapidly expanding suburbs.
The streetcar suburb is often cited as the first step
taken towards sprawl. However, these early single family residential developments offer a density, walkability, and connectivity that the postwar suburbs do not. Several Notes 57 Farr., 114. 58 Reck, 45. 59 Andres Duany, Elizabeth PlaterZyberk, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (New York: North Point Press, 2000), 5-7.
American cities have recently invested in transit systems such as light rail, and modern streetcars or trams. Transit oriented development (TOD) focuses development along those lines providing the greatest densities at transit stops. The TOD model represents an evolved version of the streetcar suburb. By locating trams along old streetcar lines there is potential for rehabilitation. Many American cities that developed before the automobile era have these early suburbs as the first ring of development surrounding the urban core. Furthermore, in many cities these are the areas that contain the building stock and
infrastructure that is most in need of repair.
Mise en place
Literally translated as setting in place, mise en
place is a culinary term that describes the arrangement of every food item and utensil in a professional kitchen into a carefully and thoughtfully designated place. The amount of wealth America has invested in the suburban model, and the resulting territoriality has led to land use legislation that intends to maintain property value by segregating use. Zoning officials have tried to do with planning what the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier did with his kitchen, they have methodically put each thing in its respective place. What produces an efficient kitchen however does not produce an efficient town, neighborhood, or community because the carefully separated items are too far apart to be easily reached by an individual without the use of some form of mechanized transportation. This type of separation makes sprawl patterns easily identifiable, and consists of five elements or components: housing subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, civic institutions, and a vast network of 59
roads to connect it all. (FigureÂ 8) This type of division, known as Euclidian zoning, has two aversions, and they
Fragmented Office Park Shopping Center
Euclidian Zoning Figure 8
Degfragment the Habitat Corridor Granny Flat
Mixed-Use Integration on the Individual Lot
are its only significant tenets: density, and mixed uses. Ironically, it is the presence and careful consideration of these two elements that is required to make the kind of places that foster viable communities. In spite of all the criticism of sprawl plans, these are still the dominant type of zoning laws on the books, with few exceptions throughout the United States. Further, by legislating what is forbidden, as opposed to establishing an acceptable range for what is desired, the result is predictable, placeless, ubiquitous and often hostile. The first and most critical step in creating a more equitable and sustainable built environment will be the reevaluation and repeal of euclidean zoning laws.
The major problem with this type of low-density
separated use development is that it requires access to an automobile to accomplish almost every task in day to day life. This makes outcasts of the 80 million Americans that are either too young, too old, or too poor to drive.
Because of this parents are often reduced to the function of full-time chauffeurs and their children are rendered hopelessly dependent. Socially, the insular and individual Notes 60 Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck, 115.
focus of life spent in an automobile has precluded many opportunities for people to communicate with one another. Without this vital communication the creation of viable communities is nearly impossible. This dismal picture of encapsulated life bears little resemblance to the images of freedom that originally sold America the car.
An alternative to reintegrating mixed uses in the
suburb at a master planning scale would be to approach defragmentation on the scale of the individual lot. These strategies could do significantly more to mitigate the negative effects of suburbia as they are able to be applied
not only to new development, but more significantly to existing residential developments as well. Recent advancements in communication infrastructure have allowed a large number of people to telecommute and work from home. This could be taken a step further to allow small businesses, shops, and stores to be incorporated into the home, or even placed as separate buildings on extant large suburban lots.
Food may also be produced in small gardens
on these substantial lots as well. On multi-acre lots some small number of livestock may be able to be kept: chickens to produce eggs, cows and goats to produce milk, sheep to produce wool. The trade of these resources among residents would generate local economies within the developments themselves. This nano-urban approach could potentially transform the mega-lot from a liability into an asset for the community by creating social bonds and limiting the need for individual automobile usage. (FigureÂ 9)
The development of the nano-urban approach
lies outside the architectural scope of this investigation. However, its influence is significant to the conceptual development of the proposed residences as a way of addressing those issues associated with suburbia that would be better addressed on a planning rather than an architectural scale.
Program Analysis & Development
300 285 270 255 240 225 210 195 180 165
110 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20
Millions of People
Millions of Acres
If you canâ€™t make it good, make it big
This sentiment has been applied ad absurdum to
housing subdivisions throughout suburbia, and the trend towards ever increasing building square footages and lot acreages continues in spite of looming consequences. From 1970 to 2000 the average number of people in the Notes
American household shrank from 3.14 to 2.62 people, but the average square footage of the American home 61
61 Farr, 21.
grew from 1,385sf to 2,140sf. (Figure 11 & 12) Housing
62 Ibid., 108.
subdivisions are typically developed on large tracts of greenfield by a single owner developer in a handful of phases. The rate at which America is developing land is increasing. The amount of developed land area in the United States almost quadrupled between 1954 and 1997 from 18.6million acres to 74 million acres most of which is 62
low-density sprawl type development. Further, this rate of increase is outpacing population growth. From 1982 to 1997 the population increased by 15% but developed
1,385 sf 3.14 people
2,140 sf 2.62 people
441 sf per person
817 sf per person
Dwelling Units Per
current US average for residential development
required for bus service
required for streetcar service
graphic based on 2 story average 2140sf home 63
land increased by 34%. (FigureÂ 10) Perhaps what is most alarming is that a very small percentage of development has focused on infill projects within established municipalities. In a study of 22 metropolitan areas from 1989 through 1998 95% of building permits submitted were for greenfield sites.
Notes 63 Farr, 108. 64 Ibid. 65 Ibid., 103-108
Most of the vast amount of land developed
since WWII has been very low density. It has been a long held belief in America that lower densities equate to a better quality of life. The current average density for development is 2 dwelling units per acre, with 35% of new housing being built on sites that are 2-5 acres 65
in size. However at such low densities viable habitats and farmland are gobbled up at alarming rates. With so much distance placed between buildings and uses, it is impractical to walk anywhere. Bus transit does not even become viable until a density of 7 dwelling units per acre
Low-Density Subdivision 2,000 sf Footprint on 1/2 Acre Lot
Increased Density Infill
Proposed Homes Added to Subdivided Lots
Figure 16 is reached, streetcar and light rail service are not feasible at densities under 15, and 22 dwelling units per acre 66
respectively. (Figure 13)
By increasing flexibility and adapting to changes
in occupant needs a mutable house has the potential to reduce the amount of space needed by the American Notes 66 Farr, 113. 67 Kunstler, 43.
family, while maintaining and improving quality of life. As previously stated, Americans move Eleven times in 67
their lifetime on average. Many of these moves are necessitated by change in family size or income. The use of mass-customized, off-site fabrication would help the home to grow and change with the family it is intended to house, potentially precluding the need to move. (FiguresÂ 14 & 15) An added bonus to this reduction in demand for new homes would greatly reduce greenfield development, because new homes are most often built on newly developed land.
One solution to increasing density would be to
subdivide the suburb by creating new lots between the existing houses and infilling with new construction. (Figure 16) This solution alone would double density, however with the addition of rental units and granny flats to both the new and the existing houses, densities large enough to make transit viable could be achieved. This type of approach would provide the desired increase density, but it would also heterogenize the existing suburban context. These intervening residences would provide the culture shock needed to start a dialog between the existing suburban home and its new antithetical neighbor. The introduction of even one outlier is enough to break the homogeneity, and start a new dialogue because subsequent interventions can then respond to its individuality creating a unique context overtime.
Privacy and Community
J.B. Jackson took a particular interest in the
middle-class American home. He believed that despite the conglomeration of seemingly meaningless architectural styles and elements, the interior of the home was simply a composition of spaces accommodating cherished 68
domestic values. Most important among these were privacy, continuity, undisputed possession, and the ability 69
to offer formal hospitality. The importance given to formal Notes 68 Jackson, 146. 69 Ibid. 70 Ibid., 146. 71 Ibid., 147.
parlors and dining rooms, as well as the separation of private space onto an upper level, served to underscore the importance of hospitality in establishing status among 70
the middle-class. The single family suburban home afforded the middle-class with the additional space needed to accommodate this cultural act. The use of the middle-class home in establishing status has led to a rabid territoriality among its inhabitants, and this possessiveness has been extended beyond the walls of the formal dwelling to include the surrounding landscape. This territoriality has elevated verdant lawns and picket
to Private Space Service Lane Carriage House Neighbor
Porch Elevated First Floor Sidewalk
Public to Private Space
Large Clearly Defined Entry
Minimal Poorly Defined Entry
No Direct Public/Private Transition
Direct Public/Private Transition
Public Entry Private Service
fences to symbols of success and status in the American psyche. Further, by extending controlled access to the entire neighborhood, the gated community is the apotheosis of American middle-class territoriality and possessiveness.
The lack of community that paradoxically plagues
the suburb is largely the result of the harsh division of public and private that occurs at the building envelope. This is because it is often the only clear boundary that exists on the site. (FigureÂ 17) The denizens of suburbia rarely venture into their vast front lawns except to maintain them, and on the few occasions annually when they venture out back to fire up their grills and barbecues they locate them close to the house leaving the wilderness they fled the cities for unexplored and uninhabited.
This deficiency is not compensated for within
the home itself. Public and private functions are often separated by abrupt thresholds rather than smooth, and clearly signified transitions. Entry space is typically small and poorly defined. Its purpose is largely symbolic as the building is actually designed to be entered through the garage. The hierarchical significance of which is established by its dominance of the street facade. (FigureÂ 18)
A legible public to private relationship signifies to
visitors, guests and inhabitants of the home which areas they are meant to occupy. By clarifying this relationship both hosts and guests will feel more comfortable and this will encourage the home to function as a third space for others within the community, thus limiting the need
Spine Datum Concept
MEP & Structural Core Contemporary Interpretation of Historic Load-Bearing Space Divider & Organizer
Figure 19 to venture out to coffee houses and bars, and creating stronger social ties within the development.
The early twentieth century Victorian home is
compared with the McMansion as an exemplar of welldefined public to private relationships both inside the home and outside to its neighborhood context. The use of large verandas and elevated first floors establish a semi-private realm outside of the building envelope. Close-packed neighbors help to create a formal street front delineating between the public and private realm. The presence of rear service lanes and carriage houses defines a private rear yard, and provides a less formal more utilitarian space for residents. (FigureÂ 17)
Within the Victorian home itself, a large clearly
defined formal entry is accessed from the porch. Transitions from public to private take place through an intermediary, either entry or service space. Further these
spaces are divided along a load-bearing wall that runs the length of the home acting as a datum. By being positioned slightly off-center it lends a hierarchical significance to larger public space. (FigureÂ 18)
A contemporary interpretation of this datum
provides an ideal organization for the mutable house. This design serves a double function as both the legible architectural expression of the organization of space within the home, and as the buildings primary structure and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing core. (FigureÂ 19)
New Room 12’ x 12’ x 12’ 144 sf
Bathroom New Room 9’ x 6’ x 9’ 54 sf
Addition 3’ x 15’ x 12’ 45 sf
Addition 3’ x 9’ x 19’ 27 sf
The primary programmatic goal of the proposed
system is to provide for both pre and post-occupancy expansion and transformation. This sequence begins with the client working with an architect to design and select the spaces needed to suit their specific needs, desires, tastes and budget. Construction then commences on site with the core wall being connected to the foundation and tied in to utilities. The constituent spaces are simultaneously built off-site in a controlled factory environment and delivered upon completion to the site in grand blocks to then be attached to the core wall. At this point the home is ready to begin its initial phase of occupation. The schematic requirements for this stage are listed in the chart on the adjacent page. (Figure 21)
As additional inhabitants are added to the home,
Living Room 12’x15’
Dining Room 12’x15’
Total Figure 21
some spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms can simply be added. Others such as living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens must be expanded. (Figure 20) The schematic requirements for this phase are listed in the chart below
Expansion Living Room 3’x15’
Parallel + U-Shape
Parallel + Parallel + U
U-Shape + Parallel
Broken-U + Parallel
The expansion of food preparation space requires
special consideration due to the relative complexity of use and spacial requirements of equipment in comparison to other parts of the home. Parallel, U-shaped, and Broken U-shaped layouts all provide the ability to be expanded using a 3’x9’ module. The Parallel + U-shape arrangement provides the most efficient kitchen with the maximum amount of counter space. The Broken-U layout allows for better circulation with access to the kitchen on two adjacent sides. (Figure 23)
The diagram on the following pages (Figure 24)
illustrates the conceptual sequence of assembly and expansion of this type of program. In the first step the structural core is attached to the site and tied into utilities. In the second step the main living spaces are attached to the core and the home begins its initial phase of occupation. Step three illustrates the post-occupancy
Structural Core Attached to Site & Tied to Utilities
Main Living Spaces Attached to Core
Post-Occupancy Additional Space Added For Additional Occupant
addition and expansion of living spaces as additional residents, presumably elderly parents and children, are added to the home. Step four illustrates the expanded home during its second phase of inhabitancy.
This conceptual spatial organization was the first
architectural gesture produced in the course of these studies. It continues to be refined for the remainder of this exploration throughout the schematic design, and design development phases, and can be easily recognized in the design of the final residences.
Three Variations on a Theme
Continued exploration of the spine datum concept
led to the development of a structural system where a series of openings puncture the core wall at 3’-0” on center. (Figure 25) These openings accept beams that support the ancillary living spaces that are to be attached to the datum wall. (Figure 26) This system creates visual interest and presents more to its neighbors than an austere blank wall. The evacuated division of the exterior cladding panels along the vertical axis of the beam in combination with the oversized openings introduce a playful irrationality to this overtly rational system. The updated sequence of assembly and expansion of this further developed system is illustrated by the diagram on the following pages. (Figure 26)
Structural Core Attached to Site & Tied to Utilities
Structural Members AttachedTo Core
Main Living Spaces Attached to Core
3. Figure 26 (continued)
Additional Space Added For Additional Occupant
Site Plan 1” = 50’-0”
Scheme A: Tube House
The Tube House scheme locates the public space
in front of the private space all organized along a single central core wall. This long narrow plan would be ideal for interventions where the existing houses are located closely together, yet are set back far from the street. This scheme is designed to be sited with the private space inserted between the existing houses and the public space reaching out to the street front in order to activate it. (Figure 27) In all the schemes the spaces of the home cantilever and expand from the central core like drawers that have been pulled out of a cabinet with most of the living space consisting of the datum wall itself. In the Tube and Tower schemes the Larger Public spaces are stayed by steel cables attached to beams that extend beyond the opposite side of the wall. (Figure 30) The interstices created by this structure can be easily decked and utilized as outdoor living space. (Figure 31)
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0” Figure 28
Second Floor Plan 0’
Transverse Section B Figure 29
Transverse Section A
Longitudinal Elevation 1/16” = 1’-0” Figure 31
Longitudinal Section Figure 32
Site Plan 1” = 50’-0”
Scheme B: Twin-Wall House
The Twin-Wall House scheme divides the
home along two parallel walls. One wall contains the private space, while the other organizes the public. This introverted plan is split along a central courtyard that implies the presence of a third central void wall. (Figure 34) Trees located between the existing homes could be retained and incorporated into the home in this scheme. (Figure 36) This plan has the width of a more traditional home and would best suited to intervene where the existing houses are spaced further apart. (Figure 33) This scheme also offers the potential to be modified to fit pie shaped lots carved out between houses located on cul-de-sacs.
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0”
A Figure 34
Second Floor Plan 0’
Longitudinal Elevation Figure 35
Transverse Section A Figure 36
Site Plan 1” = 50’-0”
Scheme C: Tower House
The Tower House scheme divides the home
vertically with the private spaces split onto two floors below the public space located on the third floor. (Figure 38) Of all the schemes this one most greatly privileges the public space giving it superior access to light, air and views. This variant has a minimal footprint and would best suited for suburbs with smaller lots where the existing houses are spaced closely together and setbacks are small. (Figure 37) This scheme also offers the ability to park a compact car under the home. (Figure 39)
First Floor Plan Second Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0”
Third Floor Plan 0’
Transverse Section A
Longitudinal Elevation Figure 40
Structural Core Composed of Modules
Modules Arrayed to Form Central Core Spine
Module Skin Divided to Promote Versatility
Structure & Construction
In addition to providing for the attachment of the
ancillary living spaces, the central structural spine for the houses needs to allow for the extension of the core along its axis. A system composed of a series of regular modules with a panelized skin provides the best solution to satisfy these criteria. (FigureÂ 41) The horizontal panel joints occur at multiple elevations to promote versatility by allowing for a number of floor and ceiling heights within the ancillary spaces.
The initial structural scheme developed for the
core utilized wooden frames joined together by tube steel beams. (FigureÂ 42) The steel tubes line the regular openings in the wall and accept the structure for ancillary spaces. The roof for the core is set below a parapet and each individual module is designed to drain through a
Joined by Tube Steel Beam Supports
SIP Skin with Windows Below Beams
3/32” = 1’-0” 0’
Figure 44 scupper centered over the beam openings below. The walls of the structural frame are infilled by a series of insulated panels that also provide both the interior and exterior finishes. (Figure 43)
This system allows fenestration to be placed
beneath the structural beams creating the illusion that they are bearing on glass. This move further enhances the playful irrationality that was the original conceptual basis for the design. (Figure 44)
With the beams spaced at 3’-0” on center
however, this system places the vertical members of the structural frame too closely together to allow for large enough openings to provide access to the ancillary spaces which are to be added to the home later. The second structural scheme solves this issue by simplifying the structural frame to join directly to itself without the use of steel beams. In addition to this the core module was
Spine Module 2
Modular Wood Frame Figure 45
lengthened to join at 3â€™-6â€? on center providing ample width for openings between spaces and the wall. (FigureÂ 45)
With this system the beam openings have
been eliminated in favor of a more integrated structural connection between ancillary space and core wall using steel flitches. This change provides a building that is both more structurally sound and more flexible. As with the previous scheme the frame is skinned with SIPs. With the elimination of the beam openings the joints between exterior cladding panels have become more complex to accommodate connections between ancillary and core
Assembled Core Module
SIP Skin Figure 46
structural systems. (FigureÂ 46)
For the ancillary spaces that cantilever from
the structural core a separate structural language was developed. Similar to the core envelope, the insulation, interior, and exterior finishes for the peripheral assemblies are integrated into a panelized system. (FigureÂ 47) However unlike the core, the panels for the cantilevering spaces are not inserted between the structural members. Instead the structure is composed of flitch frames that surround the SIP constructed envelopes. (FigureÂ 48) This allows the envelope to act independently from the highly
Room Envelope Composed of SIP Panels
SIP Envelope Inserted into External Flitched Wood Frame
Metal Roofing Attached
Assembled Cantilevered Room
Flitched External Structure Figure 51
regulated structural system allowing the actual space to better respond to parameters generated by use. A modular roofing system attaches to the top of the frame. (FigureÂ 49) This reduces thermal bridging and creates an airspace between the roof membrane and the envelope that mitigates solar gain, and in turn reduces cooling loads and lowers energy usage and costs. Each roofing module drains independently through an integrated scupper that is recessed into the structural frame aligning it with the corresponding core scupper above.
Ancillary Structure Joined to core Figure 52
Sleeping Platform Attached to Core
The external structural frames are joined to the
core system via steel flitches inserted between the vertical wood framing members which as a result stiffens both systems at the point of greatest stress. (FigureÂ 52)
1/4” = 1’-0”
Side Elevation Figure 53
Twin Wall House
1” = 60’-0”
Intervening: Ivy Court
As a proof of concept and to illustrate the act
of subdividing the subdivision, a typical cul-de-sac on Savannah’s South side Ivy Ct. was selected. (Figure 54) nine mutable houses, four twin walls, three towers and two tubes were inserted between the eight existing houses more than doubling density and completely changing the character of the neighborhood.
Mutation Sequence: Tube House
The plans and exploded isometrics that follow
(Figures 55 - 60) trace the evolution of a tube house from a small single bedroom residence (Figure 55 & 56) to a home large enough for two adults and two children, (Figures 57 & 58) and finally into a house that includes amenities to accommodate the care of an elderly parent. (Figures 59 & 60) Figure 55
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0” 0’
a. Modules that make up the spine datum are attached to foundation and tied into utilities. They contain the primary structure and circulation space for the home.
b. Ancillary living spaces are attached to the spine that define the use of the adjacent regions of the central core space as well
c. Tube scheme 1 is ready for occupation. It a 1 bedroom 1.5 bath house suitable for an individual or a couple without children Figure 56
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0”
Second Floor Plan 0’
d. Modules not to be used in the expansion are sold or traded in. Some spaces are relocated to make room for the additional assemblies
e. New core modules and ancillary spaces are delivered from the factory and attached to the existing building
f. Tube scheme 2 is ready to occupy. A second floor has been added containing 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The laundry room and main living space have also been expanded to accommodate the addition of children to the home.
112 Figure 59
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0”
Second Floor Plan 0’
g. The bathroom module not to be used in the expansion is sold or traded in. Some spaces are relocated to make room for the additional assemblies
h. New core modules living space ,ADA compliant bathroom spaces, and elevator are delivered from the factory and attached to the existing building
i. Tube scheme 3 is ready to occupy. Accessible bathroom spaces and a residential elevator have been added. The main living space has also been expanded to accommodate the addition of an elderly parent to the home.
First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan
3/32” = 1’-0”
Design Development: Tower House
The plans for tower house as with all the schemes,
have been updated to incorporate the resolution of the structural system. (Figure 61) Fenestration and materiality have also been addressed. A home office has been added to the first floor. The children’s sleeping area now includes bunk beds and their bathroom now includes a tub instead of a shower. A porch has been added to the rear of the third floor just off the kitchen to provide a semi outdoor living space.
Third Floor Plan
Design Development: Twin Wall House
The plans for twin wall house have been updated
to fit into the wedge shaped interstices found between
First Floor Plan 3/32” = 1’-0”
houses located on cul-de-sacs. (Figure 61) The datum wall containing the private spaces has been rotated to match the angle of neighboring house. This introverted arrangement defines a central courtyard with a deck that attaches to the flitch frame structure of the ancillary spaces. Several areas are not decked so that trees and other plants may grow up through this space.
Second Floor Plan 0’
View from the Stair Side Figure 63
Renderings: Tower House
The house has been clad in Hardie panel.
Windows face primarily to the front and rear of the home. Unconditioned spaces have been clad with a perforated Hardie panel and plywood screen. (FiguresÂ 63-66 & 70) The long walls of the living spaces are a translucent Kalwall panels, which provide an insulation value of R-20 while allowing for 20% diffused light transmission. (FiguresÂ 64-69) This combined with light colored wood interior finishes helps to make the narrow volumes feel
View from the Street Figure 64
Perspective View of a Longitudinal Section Cut Through the Core Datum Figure 65
more expansive. (FiguresÂ 67-69) The structural frame is visible in the interior of the core space as well expressing the system of construction on both the interior and exterior of the home. (FiguresÂ 63-70)
Perspective Transverse Section Cut Through the Office Bedroom and Kitchen
View of the First Floor Office
View of the Second Floor Master Sleeping Space
View of the Third Floor Main Living Space
View of the Third Floor Rear Porch Space
Residential Inter Population
300 285 270 255 240 225 210 195 180 165
110 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20
Millions of People
Millions of Acres
socially, and e
By building new homes on previously developed land The need for new development can be reduced. Designing homes that are able to adapt to changes in inhabitant need would provide a reduction in demand for new homes that would reduce greenfield development, because new homes are most often built on newly developed land.
To develop an economic, an suburban con house.
An adaptable possibility to t the re-design
Americans move Eleven times in their lifetime on average. Many of these moves are necessitated by change in family size or income. The use of masscustomized off-site fabrication would help the home to grow and change with the family it is intended to house, potentially precluding the need to move.
Attempts to p negative soci these concern emergence o first century p greater individ to standards w and innovatio a wider range observer to d Hence the pa mitigated, and individualizati lessen the de
Dwelling Units Per
current US average for residential development
The rate at which America is developing land is increasing. The amount of developed land area in the United States almost quadrupled between 1954 and 1997 from 18.6million acres to 74 million acres most of which is low-density sprawl type development. Further this rate of increase is outpacing population growth.
required for bus service
The current average density for development is 2 dwelling units per acre, with 35% of new housing being built on sites that are 2-5 acres in size. Bus transit does not even become viable until a density of 7 dwelling units per acre is reached, streetcar and light rail service are not feasible at densities under 15, and 22 dwelling units per acre respectively. 15
required for streetcar service
Houses that m aesthetic that inhabitants. B these transfor generation. T that is more r equally genui autobiograph
The proposed approach is to create new lots between the existing houses and infill with new construction. This method alone would double density, however with the addition of rental units and granny flats to both the new and the existing houses, densities large enough to make transit viable could be achieved
Perspective View of Tower House from the Stair Side
graphic based on 2 story average 2140sf home
Perspective View of Tower House from the Street
Tube House WC Deck
Twin Wall House
Modular Wood Frame For Core Module
S.I.P. Skin with Multiple Joints to Promote Versatility
Assembled Core Module
Site Plan 0’
1” = 40’-0”
Flitched External Structural Frames
Ancillary Structure Joined to Core
Envelope inserted into Structural Frames & Metal Roofing Attached
1/8” = 1’-0” Porch
The Twin-Wall scheme divides the home into two datum walls. One wall contains the private space, while the other organizes the public. This introverted plan looks into a central courtyard. Trees located between the existing homes could be retained and incorporated into the home in this scheme. This scheme is designed specifically to fit pie shaped lots carved out between houses located on cul-de-sacs.
Second Floor Plan 0’
First Floor Plan
selected site would be simultaneously prepared. Upon completion the modules would then be delivered to the site and attached to a permanent foundation and tied into utilities. Later as conditions require and finances permit the homeowner may easily expand and alter their home through the addition and relocation of customizable parts specified by the architect and produced by the factory.
First Floor Plan
Ancillary Space Attached to Core
Mutable System Sequence
In this proposed model the homebuyer would begin by meeting with an architect to determine the number type and arrangement of spaces needed for the initial phase of inhabitancy of their new home. The architect would then work closely with the factory to provide the information needed to manufacture the desired building. At the same time the home is being constructed in controlled conditions at the factory the
a. Modules that make up the spine datum are attached to foundation and tied into utilities. They contain the primary structure and circulation space for the home. b. Ancillary living spaces are attached to the spine that define the use of the adjacent regions of the central core space as well
1/8” = 1’-0” 0’
c. Tube scheme 1 is ready for occupation. It a 1 bedroom 1.5 bath house suitable for an individual or a couple without children
Thesis Exhibition Presentation Board
d. Modules not to be used in the expansion are sold or traded in. Some spaces are relocated to make room for the additional assemblies e. New core modules and ancillary spaces are delivered from the factory and attached to the existing building f. Tube scheme 2 is ready to occupy. A second floor has been added containing 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The laundry room and main living space have also been expanded to accommodate the addition of children to the home.
rventions in Suburbia
m effects of suburban sprawl have proven environmentally,
n alternative suburban residence that would mitigate the social, nd environmental issues associated with the existing fractured ntext through the siting, design and use of the re-envisioned
e, expandable, and mutable prefabricated house offers the transform, densify, and heterogenize suburban sprawl through n of its primary artifact, the single family home.
produce alternatives to suburban sprawl that mitigate its ial, environmental and economic effects can best address ns by breaking the homogeneity of the suburban context. The of mass-customization as a method of production in the twentypromises great potential to accomplish this task by providing dualization of the working class American home. The deference would no longer be necessitated by the means of production on would be celebrated rather than discouraged. By introducing e of variety of housing to the suburban context, the ability of the differentiate deviation from the norm would be greatly diminished. alpable gaze of suburban panopticism would be noticeably d a space could be made to accommodate the other. Finally ion is the best defense against commodification, which would emand for sign value and return the home from hyperreality
s significance as a genuine cultural artifact.
mutate in response to inhabitant need in doing so produce an t celebrates their adaptation and records the history of their By employing contemporary off-site fabrication techniques rmations can happen quickly occurring multiple times within a This achieves an architectural signification of inhabitant history responsive than that of century old homes in a manner that is ine, but does not require generations to achieve. Further the hical nature of these mutations imbues the home with a sense of
hat resists commodification.
Perspective View of a Transverse section cut through the Tower House
Perspective View of a longitudinal section cut through the Tower House
Main Living Space
First Floor Plan
1/8” = 1’-0”
Second Floor Plan 0’
The Tower scheme divides the home vertically with the private spaces on the second floor below the public space located on the third floor, and a home office located on the first floor. This organization privileges the public space giving it superior access to light, air and views. This is intended to encourage members of the household to spend most of their time in these common spaces. This variant has a minimal footprint and would be best suited for smaller interstices where the existing houses are spaced closely together and setbacks are minimal. This scheme also offers the ability to park a compact car under the home.
Third Floor Plan
First Floor Plan
8” = 1’-0”
First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan 0’
1/8” = 1’-0” g. The bathroom module not to be used in the expansion is sold or traded in. Some spaces are relocated to make room for the additional assemblies h. New core modules living space ,ADA compliant bathroom spaces, and elevator are delivered from the factory and attached to the existing building
Second Floor Plan 0’
i. Tube scheme 3 is ready to occupy. Accessible bathroom spaces and a residential elevator have been added. The main living space has also been expanded to accommodate the addition of an elderly parent to the home.
Ryan Behneman_Professor Ronaszegi_ARCH709 Design Studio IX_Spring 2010
This investigation began with the overzealous
goal of creating a new paradigm by developing a magicbullet solution for suburbia. As the project developed these totalizing ideas were abandoned on the basis that they assumed a level of agency and control that is not possessed by any of the actors participating in the reproduction of suburbia. As a result the focus of this investigation and the goal of the resulting architecture evolved into intervention and mitigation.
The concept of mutability and the development of
a residential architecture that responded to changes in occupant number and need however remained a priority. The role of pre-fabrication in achieving these goals was not diminished either. The desire to mitigate the negative social and cultural effects of suburbia continued to be the focus of the project.
What emerged was the idea to focus on the
potential of residential infill in existing suburban developments as opposed to seeking a new model for future development. This is what introduced the concept
of intervening in suburbia both literally and figuratively. This modification to the intent of the project elevated the importance of suburbia as a context because now the proposed architecture was forced to respond to it and engage in a direct dialogue with it. The critical role this project assumed was a result of this shift.
Further inquiries into the application of the nano-
urbanism context, the defragmentation of suburbia and the use of these types of residential interventions on a master planning scale may further strengthen the arguable position of this thesis.
It may also be fruitful to apply these ideas to very
specific sites in order to investigate the ability of the system to respond to regional and vernacular building materials and methods. This approach would also offer the opportunity to investigate the potential for climatic responses.
On a much smaller scale further investigation of
systems integration, flexibility, and mutability may provide design challenges that would have an impact on the experiential qualities of these spaces strengthening the expression the mutable system in the interiors.
The complexity of suburbia as a phenomenon has
the potential to be the lifeâ€™s work of those who choose to investigate it, and strive for change within it. This investigation has been but the first step into what will likely be a lifelong pursuit.
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