In this interview, originally published in Metropolis Magazine as “The Charms of Suburbia“, Martin Pedersen interviews Robert A.M. Stern about his new book, “Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City“. Pedersen’s interview delves into the history behind the Garden Suburb – a typology that is distinct from the stereotype of suburban sprawl.
Robert A.M. Stern is nothing if not counterintuitive. How else do you explain—in an increasingly digital and urban-centric world—his recently released book, a 1,072-page tome, containing more than 3,000 images, on the history of the garden suburb? Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City (the Monacelli Press, 2013) was written with longtime, in-house collaborators David Fishman and Jacob Tilove, who also worked with Stern on the ﬁfth volume of the architect’s epic New York series.
Paradise Planned is similarly expansive. “The book grew like Topsy,” Stern says. “We’d think we had all the examples down, and a new one would pop up. So it just got bigger and bigger. And I thought: if we’re going to do this book, we really ought to do it as the deﬁnitive text. Now, it’s not forever text. People will always be adding things. But this is a pretty comprehensive view.” I recently talked to Stern about his new book, the folly of “landscape urbanism,” and the lessons learned from the garden suburb.
Read on for the rest of the interview
After the Wolfson Economics Prize announced a challenge to deliver new garden cities in the UK for the 21st Century, Feargus O’Sullivan of Atlantic Cities responds, calling the attempt to bring back garden cities “misguided”. His article gives a comprehensive rundown of why garden cities were popular during the 20th century, why they are becoming popular again and, ultimately, why they are a bad idea that will not succeed this time around – finishing with some ideas from The Netherlands and Sweden that would be much more appropriate. You can read the full article here.
The challenge of converting a sea of parking lots, that so often riddles auto-dependent suburbs, is in densification. Architects are introducing compact urban living models to small towns all across the country, retrofitting single-use zoning into more walkable, diverse and connected communities. Perhaps nowhere is this evolution more evident than Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood, home to the country’s oldest shopping malls. Learn how the town became denser and greener, transitioning to a transit-oriented development, “Gray, Green, and Blue: Seattle’s Northgate.”
Last monday, Columbia University’s Avery Hall was buzzing.
The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) hosted a highly attended event that welcomed respected academics and professionals from architecture and real estate to what the dean, Mark Wigley, warned might take the form a a celebrity roast. Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects and director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia, was on deck to deliver an abridged, more “urban version” of a longer lecture on his new book, A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America. Proceeding the twenty minute lecture, an “A-list” panel of architects and historians - that included Kenneth Frampton, Gwendolyn Wright, Bernard Tschumi, Laurie Hawkinson and Reinhold Martin – lined up to discuss Chakrabarti’s work.
This article originally appeared the National Endowment of the Arts’ quarterly magazine as “The Suburban Canvas: An Emerging Architectural Model of Artistic Possibilities“
For much of its existence, American suburbia has been considered an architectural wasteland. From shopping malls to McMansions to residential developments, suburbs from Connecticut to California look eerily similar and share a similar pattern of quick, cheap construction that has left little if any room for thoughtful design.
But with the recent foreclosure crisis and growing environmental concerns, new opportunities have emerged to re-imagine the suburbs into sustainable, architecturally innovative communities. Although the other art forms examined in this issue have fully established themselves, suburban design — traditionally the realm of profit-driven developers — is only now beginning to emerge as an artistic field. Fueled by exhibits such as the Museum of Modern Art’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream and Dwell magazine’s Reburbia Design Competition, architects and designers are beginning to explore what the suburbs could potentially look and feel like. We spoke with several architects who are leaders within this growing trend, and are quite literally designing new artistic possibilities for all those “little boxes on the hillside.” In their own words, here are some of their concerns, projects, and visions.
“Within the boundaries of a society largely living above its own means, an unregulated banking system that plays by its own rules, and a government that idly stands by as millions of homes are being foreclosed upon, there lies an absolute truth: the direction we’re moving as a society has become unsustainable and toxic. [...] This is the new promise of the American dream.” - Brad Ascalon
When you think of Suburbia, you inevitably think of the white picket fence. But the picturesque Suburbia you envision, never truly existed, and now, with an economy plunging, poverty rising, and people hurting, the truth has become too hard to ignore.
In this piece for the “Love It or Leave It” exhibition at New York’s Gallery R’Pure, going on now until June 1st, Brad Ascalon has inverted this typical Suburban symbol in order to comment upon the state of the American Dream – today, “nearly impossible for most Americans to realize.”
More Photos of Brad Ascalon’s “The Dream” after the break…
The video above, produced by ITDP Mexico is a surprisingly fun look at the dire traffic situation in Mexico City. With the help of two Barbie Ken dolls (who else?), the video describes two types of drivers: the Everyday Driver, who drives everywhere no matter what, and the Shadow Driver, who drives only when it’s most convenient.
The situation facing Mexico City isn’t too far off from that facing American Suburbia (as our infographic “Burbs Going Bust” and our two-part “Saving Suburbia” series recently highlited). The ‘burbs, designed to convenience the Everyday Driver, have essentially turned Shadow Drivers into Everydays. Hence why passenger cars account for up to 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in some car-intensive communities in the U.S.
It gets you thinking… if we could design Suburbia for the Shadow Drivers (or the “Disencarchised” Driver, who can’t afford a car at all) and make driving less convenient for the Everydays, then maybe we could convert the Shadow drivers (to the “light”side) and increase the demand for walkable streets and denser communities.
For decades the suburbs and the American Dream went hand-in-hand: a house with a yard and a white picket fence. It was the alternative to the hustle and bustle of urban living, a peaceful place to raise a family. Instead of letting the suburbs dwindle away, resulting in unkempt ghost towns, we should begin thinking about how to retrofit the suburbs for the needs of our changing culture, reinventing Suburbia as a sustainable alternative to urban life.
For more on understanding the reality and difficulties of redesigning Suburbia check out this two part series on Saving Suburbia by Vanessa Quirk: Saving Suburbia Part I: Bursting the Bubble and Saving Suburbia Part II: Getting the Soccer Moms On Your Side.
Suburbia has a problem. We’ve known it for a while. We’ve chosen to ignore it.
Why? Because the suburbs are difficult. And just… not sexy. We have become so enamored with our cities, with their various complexities and potential for sustainability, that the suburbs, with their single-family home and deep carbon footprint, seem a backwards architectural wasteland.
But letting the suburbs die would be a tragic, missed opportunity. As I noted in “Bursting the Bubble,” Suburbia is not just the Myth it propagates (wealthy commuters and Soccer Moms in SUVs, carelessly polluting the environment and resistant to change), but a large, growing “other”: the suburban poor, stranded and imprisoned by sprawl.
To reverse Suburbia’s built hostility to its “other” and the very Earth itself, we must re-imagine the ‘burbs as nodes of density within a well-connected network. But to make this reality, we must get the Myth’s “chosen ones” on our side, which means versing ourselves in a tricky (and political) discourse.
We cannot just be Architects; we have to be part of a community-driven movement.
Poverty and violence, boarded windows and weedy lawns, immigrants jammed “by the dozen into houses conceived for the Cleavers.” In “Can this Suburb be Saved?,” New York Magazine critic, Justin Davidson, begins by painting a bleak but realistic picture of suburbia today. It’s these conditions that are making thousands flee to cities everyday, making headlines predict the “death of sprawl.” 
Davidson makes the case, and I agree, that the suburbs and architects need each other – now, more than ever. But Davidson ends with a defeatist conclusion. He seems to say, it’s just too difficult, that, ultimately: “suburbanites like the suburbs.” There are suburbanites like these, who believe nothing’s wrong, who shudder at the word “density.” But who are they? The ones jammed “by the dozens” into single-family homes? The ones scraping to make ends meet?
Herein lies the great complication of suburbia. Its myth – of wealth, whiteness, a steady-job in the big city, and a space to call your own – keeps getting in the way of the big-picture: the thousands in need of change. If architects are to “save” the suburbs, and redesign them based on their multiple realities, they’ll have to start by separating themselves from the myth. By bursting the ‘burbs’s bubble.
Read about the Myths and Truths of Suburbia, after the break…
Starting today, through July 30, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will be running an exhibit featuring the proposals of five interdisciplinary studios that were asked to re-think and re-invent the future of housing in the midst of the foreclosure crisis that remains a threat to many Americans and their homes. Over the Summer of 2011, WORKac, MOS Architects, Visible Weather, Zago Architecture and Studio Gang Architects selected five “megaregions” across the country on which to speculate the form that housing could take: physically, socially and economically. Late this summer, ArchDaily has provided coverage while the work was in progress. Opening today, the results of those speculative efforts will be presented at the MoMA as part of an exhibit called Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. The Open Studios exercise was organized by Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, with Reinhold Martin, Director of Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
Read on for more on the proposals and details about the exhibit.
During the housing boom in Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs, enormous swaths of land were graded and prepared for endless subdivisions as far as the eye could see. Following the burst of the housing market and prolonged recession, these unfinished construction sites have sat vacant – remnants of unbridled optimism in the Valley of the Sun. A recent article on NPR.org discusses some of the alternative visions for re-appropriating these phantom lots that propagate the greater Phoenix area. Various methods of breathing new life into these chasms left behind include rezoning the numerous residential lots for mixed-use, or tearing up the infrastructure and letting nature take back control. For those unfamiliar with the rapid pace of development that was taking place prior to the recession, Maricopa, a small town just south of Phoenix was approving over 600 residential home permits per month. With an inventory of over 16,000 dedicated to residential homes, the measures that are required to remediate the impact of such an ambitious plan need to be ingenious.
While the Southwest has suffered from the housing bust significantly more than many other states, it will undoubtedly always remain a destination for its unequaled sunny days, warm weather and amazing desert landscape.
See this article on similar circumstances in the Rust Belt region.
Earlier we brought to you WORKac‘s preliminary scheme for the transformation of Salem-Keizer, Oregon. We would now like to present the final scheme presented by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood. The project integrates elements of the city and nature across an existing 200 acre big box retail site. WORKac is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.
The video is provided by The Museum of Modern Art.
Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith present the proposal by MOS. The project questions the idea of homeownership and re-imagines public housing in The Oranges, New Jersey. MOS is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.
Sam Dufaux presents WORKac’s vision for the transformation of Salem-Keizer, Oregon. The project integrates elements of the city and nature across an existing 200 acre big box retail site. WORKac is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.
Michael Bell presents Visible Weather’s vision for the future of Temple Terrace, Florida, rethinking how the cities edge connects to the larger, adjacent city of Tampa. Visible Weather is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.
Andrew Zago presents Zago Architecture’s transformation of Rialto, California “defaulted” subdivisions, suggesting a new species of urbanism that grows from the existing American suburb. Zago Architecture is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.
Jeanne Gang presents Studio Gang’s vision for the transformation of Cicero, Illinois, a 1920’s suburb that suffered greatly from the foreclosure crisis. Studio Gang is one of five interdisciplinary teams participating in “MoMA’s Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” Each team is challenged to re-imagine struggling American cities and suburbs, seeing the current economic crisis as an opportunity to evolve.