“Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream”

I thought I would post this interesting interview w/ Michael Bell.  It seems we are always discussing ways to put architects back in the driver's seat of the building process.  I thought he posed some interesting solutions to immediate, real problems. 

I really liked his holistic approach of re-casting the financing business model and working with members of that community to create a new paradigm.

I am hoping the show runs through June so I can see it in NY.


Feb 15, 12 11:10 am

Thanks for sharing that keith.  Not really sure if I understand what he is proposing with this business plan.   

Feb 15, 12 12:23 pm

I would be interested in hearing from any Nectors who have read the book/visited the exhibit/participated in the studios.

Particularly in light of Guy Horton's recent piece of criticism Thoughts on MoMA's Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream wherein he wrote "This is a shame because there are some valuable ideas. Ironically, most of those are contained in the boring data taken from economists and social scientists. Were the architects trying too diligently to spatialize the data?...As unsettling as the damage the financial crisis has wrought on the fabric of dwelling in America, the distance these proposals travel away from what caused these foreclosures is equally unsettling."

Or Justin Davidson who recently in NY Magazine wrote "Some ideas in the show sit on the border between bold and silly...As a whole, though, the show merges daydreams with pragmatism."

There he specifically critiqued Mr. Bell's vision as seeking to "herd newcomers to Temple Terrace, Florida, into a pair of high-tech megastructures lifted above vast urban plazas."

Finally, more substantively to me was his feeling that "For all its thoughtfulness and rigor, though, a whiff of colonialism blows through the project, with its corps of city-based experts venturing into suburbia with maps and modern technology and plans for reforming the indigenous culture. The visions they come up with have a familiar urban feel, and the show replaces old conventional wisdom with the only slightly fresher dogma of density". Is it inevitable that this sort of project/process will perhaps come across as disconnected from on the ground socio-politics and communities. I wonder how a more organic approach to the problem could be articulated, perhaps even as simple as something like OccupyourHomes but more architecturally or spatially focused....

Also, this item Housing and the 99 Percent recently posted to News feed seem apropos.

Feb 15, 12 6:36 pm

Or to reference a line from Blair Kamin's review of Jeanne Gang studios contribution to the exhibit maybe what is needed is less concept more blueprint?

Feb 15, 12 7:15 pm
wurdan freo

Is this guy suggesting Condos are the solution to the real estate crisis? Or does everyone become a renter? Seems like another utopian community to me. And of course... he's going to tell me that if I have ONE child, I only get a two bedroom unit. No thanks. Why does innovation from Architects always have to come in the form of telling people how to live their lives? Maybe innovation could be a business model that allows Architects to incorporate all these good ideas and give the customer what they want instead of telling them what they want?

Some good ideas lost in translation, reducing cost of utilities. Simple solution there. Smaller footprint, better insulation and higher efficiency systems. Hmmm.... looks to be the kind of home that the home builders are putting out right now. Wonder why they're still in business?

Feb 16, 12 10:06 am
go do it

it would be a hard sell to convince people to abandon the traditional stand alone owner occupied home to become apartment dwellers.

it really is not that hard to build a very efficient  or even a net zero home these days

Feb 16, 12 10:22 am

ending the subsidies that drastically lower the true cost of many aspects of the suburban lifestyle would be a very strong incentive for many people to move into apartments and denser neighborhoods.  If you want urban-style services and utilities with the luxury of low density you should have to pay a premium for it.  otherwise there are ways of living more "off the grid" if you're willing to do your own maintenance and pay a little more up front for these systems.


many people do have the dream of living in a detached single-family home, and I think this should be available to people if they can afford it, but I think until the crash people were pretty delusional about how much this lifestyle actually costs (i.e. taking out loans they couldn't afford), and how much it has been costing our country.

Feb 16, 12 11:22 am

Why does innovation from Architects always have to come in the form of telling people how to live their lives?

You hit the nail on the head.  This goes back the the FLW broad acre city idea, that we can reinvent society in totality to fit a certain utopian vision.  The problem is that every architect wants to invent the big cure not the gradual remedy, because the glory lies in being Jonas Salk not the guy who invented Robatusin.  The problem with any utopian model is that it usually works in theory, but is completely unrealisable due to the given societal constraints with regard to culture and economy.  I have been arguing on threads here that we need to become developers and offer realistic alternatives to crap suburbia.  Once again, architects are thinking of top down solutions to what can only be achieved with bottom up models.  We live in a free market society whether we like it or not.  We need to create demand by building better stuff.  "if you build it they will come"  We can't just dictate our solutions and hope for society to demand our service.  The suburban model is not going away because it is deeply part of the american culture.  Rather than get rid of it, lets start by building more sustainable and enriching suburaban communities that are affordable.  Look at the way the auto industry copes with these constraints...Sure a small electric car that weighs 1000 lbs. may be the best solution, but they recognise that society will not change so quick, so they focus on hybrid suv's and 4 door sedans.  We need to build the "civic hybrid" equivelent of architecture right now (transitionary projects) not the electric smart car, because unfortunatly many people out there still have steel testicles hanging from the back of their pick-up trucks.  If we can't even do that, how the hell are we going to do anything more radical.  While I wish society was easy to change and would love to see such grand projects, it just ain't gonna happen yet. 

Feb 16, 12 11:27 am

Builders, developers and real estate people have been telling people how to live for's obvious now, more than ever, thats how things are done....people don't know what they want...Architects stopped telling people what they want in the 1960's....see what we have now? I think as far as far as something develor driven, the Eichler approach today would be a good start....Developer, hiring good and great Architects, offering something different that makes sense.

Feb 16, 12 1:30 pm

Eichler, yes, I agree Kevin.  You know of any contemporary developers that are doing this kind of work with a little more focus on community design and sustainability?  I would love to do a little research into this.

Feb 16, 12 2:22 pm

I don't..if you find anything, please share with us.

Feb 16, 12 2:43 pm

sustainable developers?? developers follow incentives and try to minimize risk - without government subsidizing sprawling (i.e. cheap & low capacity) infrastructure and overly restrictive zoning laws they'd very likely build far more high-density mixed-use buildings without parking (but also without green space).  without utilities, roads, and other services land is pretty much worthless - and developers typically don't like challenging zoning unless they know the municipality is on board.


also - high-density outside of the city center presents another challenge because of the capacity of the existing services.  Some towns in the northeast have put a moratorium on any new building because their existing water and sewer systems cannot handle any additional load.  when you think of it, suburban development is often a function of how big the sewer systems are, or how much space is needed for a septic and/or leech field and buffer.


perhaps if as a culture we had a much healthier relationship with our own poop...

Feb 21, 12 11:42 am

Builders, developers and real estate people have been telling people how to live for's obvious now, more than ever, thats how things are done....people don't know what they want...

If you think it's just builders and developers telling people how to live, you're clearly missing a larger picture. Retailers are a huge factor here too. The problem with suburbia is the lack of "real job" creation.

The problem comes from the concept that many retailers sell products that more-or-less require single-unit, single-family housing units— lawnmowers, automobiles, chest freezers, full-sized appliances, furniture et cetera. The code for this word is "durable goods." And anytime you hear the government, planners or business-types talking about the increase in the purchase of durable goods or stimulating the durable goods market... they're clearly talking about suburbia.

And many of the companies that sell the tools of suburbia actively influence policy development by funding various non-profit and non-governmental organizations. We don't know who does what but there are fair examples.

Cato Insitute, a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, is quite a staunch critic of urban planning is or has been supported by the likes of General Motors, ExxonMobile, Toyota, Visa, Wal-mart, Volkswagon, Honda, FedEx and Time Warner. None of these companies want to see functioning cities.

And we end up the paradox of...

If most of the jobs are low-wage, who's buying goods and services?
And where do the armies of wage workers live if new suburban development is too expensive?

Feb 22, 12 5:26 pm

Sub-urban and suburban are also two very different things.  I would argue that sub-urban is not bad.  A good example of this is in some parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau county NY.  The density is greater than the typical suburban environment, and there is a small business walkable street scape that flanks a mix of multi and single family housing in many of these neighborhoods.  There is also access to public transit in and out of the city.  There is a mix of home owners and renters, and the opportunity to own a house and rent out the top floor.  There is a sense of community and a feeling of being in a small town within a city.  The film "Do the Right Thing" by Spike Lee so clearly expresses this.   Another issue is density.  More density is not the solution alone.  We need to find an appropriate balance of density, production, and economy so that development can be in some sort of sustainable balance.  I think that sub-urban form has the greatest potential for a sustainable development because there is enough space to support a mix of agriculture, industry,small business, housing, park space, well as enough density to support local businesses with regard to employees  and consumers.  Cities like manhattan will never be able to become hybrid typologies because things like urban agriculture and production will be far too expensive due to crazy high land prices.  The only problem with the sub-urban typology is that it sometimes becomes gentrified over time as we see in brooklyn or the opposite happens where it becomes a ghetto due to the home values going down as density goes up like in Jamaica Queens (balance is always a thin line).  On the other hand, suburban development lends itself to exploitation by corporate interests as James R. clearly articulates.  The American dream of owning a single family home is not going away.  It is a part of the American culture that dates back hundreds of years.  We need to find a solution to the problem without ignoring the cultural mentality that led to it.  This is why ideas like the ones in the MoMA  exhibit never work.  I believe that we need to study examples that already work like Astoria, and go from there.        

Feb 23, 12 12:07 pm

if downtown is for people, then who are the suburbs for?

Feb 23, 12 2:49 pm

Recently saw that ICON took the same general critical tone regarding the exhibition.

"This sort of vague, non-ideological collectivism hangs over the entire show. Designs by Visible Weather and, in particular, Zago Architecture, stress the blurring of the usual lines between public and private, renting and owning, residential and commercial sites. Such imprecise boundaries give these projects a Ballardian air: what use is changing the dream if you replace it with a nightmare?"


Apr 26, 12 7:38 pm

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