Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream

Foreclosed orientation panel discussion at MoMA PS1, with team leaders, moderated by Harry Cobb, May 7, 2011. Photo: Brett W. Messenger. © 2011 The Museum of Modern Art

You can’t drive very far in most American cities before you see the effects of the foreclosure crisis. Recent foreclosure statistics reflect a landscape of individual stories of crisis. Collectively, these narratives have influence that extends far beyond those most affected.

In an effort to begin a conversation on the foreclosure crisis, architecture, and suburbanism, we have just launched Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, the second workshop and exhibition in the series Issues in Contemporary Architecture. Like last year’s Rising Currents, Foreclosed uses the model of a workshop with public open houses at MoMA PS1, followed by an exhibition at MoMA, with five interdisciplinary teams each working on designated sites.

However, unlike Rising Currents, Foreclosed addresses an issue at a national, as opposed to local, scale. The five teams have been asked to engage in a rethinking of housing and related infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the country’s suburbs. Drawing on ideas proposed in The Buell Hypothesis, (a forthcoming research publication from Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture*), they are imagining new ways of thinking about the relationship between land, housing, infrastructure, urban form, and what is considered “public” about today’s cities and suburbs.

The teams are comprised of professionals from various fields, such as urban planning, housing policy, ecology, landscape design, engineering, and the social sciences. Each team is focusing on a specific “megaregion,” a metropolitan area that lies within a corridor between two major cities.

Amale Andraaos and Dan Wood of WORKac and their team are looking at Salem-Keizer, Oregon, within the Pacific Northwest area; Michael Bell of Visible Weather and his team are studying Temple Terrace, Florida, within the Southeast area; Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang and her team are looking at Cicero, Illinois, within the Midwest area; Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS and their team are studying The Oranges, New Jersey, within the Northeast area; and Andrew Zago of Zago Architecture and his team are looking at Rialto, California, within the Southern California area.

Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio, City College of New York, and Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Institute of Technology, Congress for New Urbanism. Photo: Brett W. Messenger. © 2011 The Museum of Modern Art

We began the project with a public symposium on May 7 at MoMA PS1. Teams presented initial responses to the project and participated in a panel discussion moderated by Henry N. Cobb, architect and Founding Partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of Retrofitting Suburbia and board member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, joined Michael Sorkin of Michael Sorkin Studio and Chair of the New York Institute for Urban Design, for a debate on alternative approaches to the question of re-envisioning the suburbs.

The Issue

The foreclosure crisis has led to a major loss of confidence in the suburban dream. The idea of single-family houses on private lots reachable only by car has been broken, and this new reality has hit especially hard in suburbs. It is here, rather than in the next ring of potential sprawl, where architects, landscape designers, artists, ecologists, and elected officials need to rethink reshaping urban America for the coming decades.

Projects will aim to challenge cultural assumptions concerning home ownership and associated settlement patterns, such as suburban sprawl, and assist the public in contemplating a potentially different future for housing and cities.

The workshop and exhibition are premised on reframing the current crisis as an opportunity, an approach that is in keeping with the fundamental American ethos where challenging circumstances engender innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. It is our hope that new paradigms of architecture and regional and transportation planning become the silver lining in the crisis of home ownership.

We invite you to join us on Saturday, June 18, at MoMA PS1 for an Open House, where you can meet the five teams and hear about their projects. We look forward to the dialogue and debate about replanning suburbia.

*The unpublished draft of The Buell Hypothesis is being made available here to view but not to download.