James Nalepa

James Nalepa

Chicago, IL, US



    Picture yourself as a cinematic character in 1990's storybook suburbia, everything in your life the cookie-cutter ideal: a happily-ever-after marriage, the perfect office job, 2.5 kids and, of course, an all-American dream home. With a well-tended rose garden on the front lawn and a freshly-painted white picket fence, you fit the suburban mold to perfection; however, you still feel like good is never good enough and you strive more and more to make that upper-middle class Americanized ideal your reality. The ramifications of the hardships that come with striving for this idealism can be seen time and time again in such films as Pleasantville, The Burbs, and American Beauty.

    Since the early 90’s, cinema has long told us, submitting to the ideals of suburban life does not always make for storybook happiness.  However, indulging into deviant behavior might begin to relieve the anxiety of daily living. Liberation to escape from the conformity comes from the strange nature of Edward Scissorhands.   Suburban housewives flock to Edward because of his unique ability to explicitly individually customize topiaries, hairstyles and poodles for them.  Their excitement to escape the binding nature of the suburbs leads them into orgasmic bliss, almost literally.  To escape the dreariness of conformity within predictable suburban living, Edwards illustrates form of the landscape has a role to reveal individual character.

    By allowing the residential architecture to be controlled by form of the landscape, architectural difference can be deployed within a standard block. This model maintains the idealistic house and lawn image of the suburbs while deviating from the repetitive organization of the suburban neighborhood. Configured as mutated row houses, the units all consist of the same material and square footage, but the form is unique to each one.  The unique forms of each house changes to enhance the individual landscapes.

    This form of the suburban block allows for a variety of landscapes.  Some lawns traditionally claim to the ground while other lawns blanket the roof of neighboring units to provide green space.  While one resident may be pruning their roses, there neighbor may be mowing their balcony lawn.  The formal logic of the neighborhood subdivides the units to maintain ground accessibility to each unit.

This new form of a suburban block is not a compromise of suburban life, nor does it require increased density to solve its intention.  The identity of multi-family housing returns under the architect’s control rather than relying solely on the homeowner’s lawn.  The definition of each house is inherently different from its neighbors without the homeowner’s customization of the landscape.  This model allows the architect to create formal differences among units while preserving the lawn as a tool for the homeowner’s individual expression.

Read more

Status: School Project