Foreclosed : Narratives, Typologies, and Property

The five multidisciplinary teams working on projects for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream are preparing for a group critique session this week at MoMA PS1. In addition to producing visuals and narratives to present to each other for feedback, they have been working on selecting titles for their projects. Here is an update from each of them on what they have been working on for the past week.

Housing Typologies. Rendering courtesy of WORKac

WORKacAmale Andraos and Dan Wood

Site Location: Salem-Keizer, Oregon

From Howard’sTown-Country” to Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park” to the New Urbanist rural-to-urban “Transect,” urbanists have always postulated new relationships between cities and nature. The problem today is that the only tangible result is car-dependent, public-space deficient, single-use, segregating suburban sprawl. Suburbs are the worst of both worlds: neither as vital and diverse as cities, nor as green and habitat-rich as the countryside.

Can we have it all? Our project, Nature-City, proposes just that: a radical juxtaposition of natural habitats with a dense, urban agglomeration of mixed-use, diverse housing types and new sustainable infrastructure and public spaces.

We have been working intensely with law professor Jerry Frug on the creation of a truly open, diverse city structure, and with landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson on the definition of locally appropriate ecosystems. Next steps are refining the sustainable infrastructure with Jason Loiselle of Sherwood and developing a financial model with James Lima of HR and A. Michael Etzel, architect and homegrown Kieserite, is back in his hometown to interview and spread the good news.


Post-NATO Cicero immigration. Rendering courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Studio GangJeanne Gang

Site Location: Cicero, Illinois

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion wrote. One could rattle off a thousand statistics—home prices, gas prices, housing starts, Case-Schiller indices—to make the point that single-family suburbia has become increasingly untenable, but they pale next to the narrative of the American Dream. Changing the dream demands more than sheer numbers and great architecture—it also requires having a better story to tell.

We’re not there yet. While we continue investigating sites and sketching a more socially/spatially/financially fluid alternative to Cicero’s abandoned plants and bungalows, we’re also grappling with the right story to tell and the right metaphors with which to tell them.

We started with the LAWN, the “Live and Work Network,” as co-opting America’s crabgrass frontier had a nice ring to it. (As Jeanne pointed out, “Everybody wants a lawn.”) But in trying to keep Cicero’s foreclosed manufacturing front-and-center, we quickly moved toward more industrial metaphors. “The Plant” was an early inspiration, combining a factory’s physical plant with the imagery of vines snaking through Cicero on which to graft interventions in the urban fabric. The one problem with that, though: Chicago already has “The Plant.”

Another contender was “Alloy,” which had the benefit of playing off the word “alley” (Cicero’s alleys are our other site for interventions) and brought a host of metallurgic metaphors to the table—alloys are stronger, more tensile, and more conductive than their parts, and they can be combined, melted down, and recombined again. But it’s hard to get excited over an alloy—manufacturing metaphors just aren’t thrilling anymore.

We’re still toying with metaphors around the ideas of “assembly” and “reassembly”—a play off the vanished assembly lines and the flexible live/work/community assemblages of our scheme. A related thought was “unbundling”—just as the Internet has unbundled the newspaper and other forms of media into their constituent parts for fluid consumption, we’re trying to do something similar for Cicero’s bungalows.

But looming over the entire project is Cicero’s status as an “arrival city,” the zone on the urban periphery where newly arrived immigrants are absorbed into mega-regions. In effect, what we’re proposing is “Arrival Urbanism”—a re-imagined cityscape attuned to arrivals’ multifaceted needs. Perhaps we don’t need to “change the dream”; perhaps they’ve been dreaming a different dream all along.


Partial site plan diagram showing relaxation of public, private, land bank, ecological corridor, and emergency corridor boundaries. Rendering courtesy of Zago Architecture

Zago ArchitectureAndrew Zago

Site Location: Rialto, California

“Property with Properties”

A residential suburban subdivision, particularly in California, is developed as a specific form of real estate and construction speculation within a regulatory framework. In this process, where speed of property turnover is essential, private land is given development entitlements and, in coordination with a municipal partner, the ability to fund infrastructure with tax advantaged public bonds. When completed, this land is owned, parcel by parcel, by individual homeowners and the streets and other public amenities are, typically, private   with operations and capital costs paid for by an assessment on the homeowners. If hit with a real estate financial crises mid-process—as is the case with our chosen site—the development process can quickly spiral out of control.

In our scenario, the Federal Reinvestment Act intervenes in our site in three ways: in transportation dollars to fund an aerial funicular between our site and the Rialto Metrorail station; in U.S. Forestry Service dollars to fund a second funicular from our site to a camping and nature site in the San Bernardino Mountains; and, most importantly, in rescuing the failing bonds in exchange for a radical reworking of the subdivision’s structure of ownership, zoning, circulation, and relationship to the surrounding ecology.

In this revised subdivision, roads are narrow and circuitous while pedestrians move unimpeded. Rather than the monotype of fee-simple single-family homes, lawns, and paving, the revised subdivision will have a variety of ownership models and housing types, including a “land bank” and easements that direct use and open access, a mixture of retail and amenities, and a significant intrusion of wildlife and ecosystems. This is achieved, in part, by a relaxation of the rigid boundaries and demarcations of the traditional subdivision. We refer to this relaxation of boundaries as a misregistration, and it carries through from individual buildings to site plan definition. As architecture theorist Robert Somol remarked, we are giving the property more properties.

Orange, New Jersey. Photograph courtesy of MOS

MOSHilary Sample and Michael Meredith

Site Location: The Oranges, New Jersey

1. Work on the unit layouts, try to think like a plumber.
2. Continue material research into aerated concrete, call around for samples. Find a manufacturer to partner with us on producing some prototypes for the exhibition.
3. Contact Hanif Kara/AKT and ask them for more information on aerated concrete systems.
4. Finish movie of the existing conditions, focus on filming the Oranges at dusk or night when the vernacular forms are on the verge of being erased by nightfall.
5. Decide if we should or if we shouldn’t, make up our minds whether or not we should do something fantastical or practical. How economical should we really be, really?
6. Renegotiate our agreement with MoMA so we can stop blogging weekly.
7. Reread “I Bought A Little City” by Donald Barthelme:

… I didn’t have any ideas about new housing, except that it shouldn’t be too imaginative. So I got to talking to one of these people, one of the ones we had moved out, guy by the name of Bill Caulfield who worked in a wholesale-tobacco place down on Mechanic Street.

“So what kind a place would you like to live in?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “not too big.”


“Maybe with a veranda around three sides,” he said, “so we could sit on it and look out. A screened porch, maybe.”

“Whatcha going to look out at?”

“Maybe some trees and, you know, the lawn.”

“So you want some ground around the house.”

“That would be nice, yeah.”

“‘Bout how much ground are you thinking of?”

“Well, not too much.”

“You see, the problem is, there’s only x amount of ground and everybody’s going to want to have it to look at and at the same time they don’t want to be staring at the neighbors. Private looking, that’s the thing.”

“Well, yes,” he said. “I’d like it to be kind of private.”

“Well,” I said, “get a pencil and let’s see what we can work out.”

We started with what there was going to be to look at, which was damned difficult. Because when you look you don’t want to be able to look at just one thing, you want to be able to shift your gaze. You need to be able to look at least three things, maybe four. Bill Caulfield solved the problem. He showed me a box. I opened it up and inside was a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of the Mona Lisa on it.

“Lookee here,” he said. “If each piece of ground was like a piece of this-here puzzle, and the tree line on each piece of property followed the outline of a piece of the puzzle—well, there you have it, Q.E.D. and that’s all she wrote.”

“Fine,” I said. “Where are the folk going to park their cars?

“In the vast underground parking facility,” he said.

“O.K., but how does each householder gain access to his household?”

“The tree lines are double and shade beautifully paved walkways possibly bordered with begonias,” he said.

“A lurkway for potential muggists and rapers,” I pointed out.

“There won’t be any such,” Caulfield said, “because you’ve bought our whole city and won’t allow that class of person to hang out here no more.”

That was right. I had bought the whole city and could probably do that. I had forgotten.

“Well,” I said finally, “let’s give ‘er a try. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it seems a little imaginative.”

We did and it didn’t work out badly. There was only one complaint. A man named A.G. Bartie came to see me.

“Listen,” he said, his eyes either gleaming or burning, I couldn’t tell which, it was a cloudy day, “I feel like I’m living in this gigantic jiveass jigsaw puzzle.”

He was right. Seen from the air, he was living in the middle of a titanic reproduction of the Mona Lisa, too, but I thought it best not to mention that. We allowed him to square off his property into a standard 60 x 100-foot lot and later some other people did that too—some people just like rectangles, I guess. I must say it improved the concept. You run across an occasional rectangle in  Shady Oaks (We didn’t want to call the development anything too imaginative) and it surprises you. That’s nice.

– Excerpt from Barthelme, Donald. “I Bought A Little City.” Sixty Stories. New York: Penguin Group (USA), 2003, 290 – 291. (accessed July 6, 2011).


Rendering courtesy of Michael Bell: Visible Weather

Michael Bell: Visible WeatherMichael Bell and Eunjeong Seong

Site Location: Temple Terrace, Florida

“Suburb One: Future Perfect”

The code names assigned to a project during development can disguise its intent and sustain the energy while a team works. Suburb One has been the code name for our work on Temple Terrace and Tampa in part because it implies a part or model number to the suburbs—a turn on the original promise of the suburbs as a pastoral site. Suburb One is a place and a part at the same time. Temple Terrace, from our team’s analysis, is projected to gain as many as 12,000 new citizens over the coming years (we propose even more), creating a need to house as much as half the total number of people already living in the small incorporated city.

The suburbs were always as much machine as rural precinct; referring to them as a quasi-part with a model number makes them seem like something to implement or install as much as design, but it also gives a sense of this as an unforeseen new precinct: a future event. The first of its kind and a re-incantation of what was promised to be a first and a new experience at the suburban outset in the 1940s. If the suburbs promised privacy and distance, they were also an instrument that placed entire generations into the constituent orbit of a mass experiment. They were not unlike Times Square as an earlier spectacular social/architectural invention, even as they metabolized the bodies of Times Square into the living rooms of millions of houses (that channel back to NYC each morning on television).

Suburb One implies a segregate part: we hope to install many versions of these parts into a suburban two-mile-long strip that would link a linear array of public properties­—rights of way, set backs, streets, and parking lots­; city-held lands with occasional private property that we’d integrate. We are seeking an urbanism of parts and components—discreet entities that interlock and are adjacent and that form a newly extended zone where flow is possible from zone to zone, but where the old divisions still show. In this scenario the suburb is refitted against and within its own divisions: public land and streets fuse to create a new thick but still porous zone around streets, where housing and infrastructure fuse and the monies of both are activated to support each other.

Eyes are on the main strip 24 hours a day: housing bears down on the no-man’s land in the right of way between highway and houses—retail loses its dominance as the sole inhabitant of the strip. The densest part of the city becomes the edge (reversing the suburban model) but also housing is made of the most public of spaces, and of public funds. The suburb, which found itself by dis-aggregating housing and street (leaving the New York City street, the Boston alley): it re-aggregates these parts in a newly extended and dilated durational experience. A two-mile version of the city as suburban distance. Suburb One is a machine and a place, form and distance—its experience and the finite limits of a closed system where you witness the aftermath of the past 50 years of suburban development from your window.

Potential titles:

Future Perfect: Public Suburb

Public Suburb: Housing Infrastructure

Infrastructural Housing

Inside Out Suburb

Suburb One: The New Housing System

Public City: Public Housing

Housing System: Planning System

Right of Way: The Public’s Private Space

The Public’s Private Space

Public Suburb

Slow City_Distance Housing

Inside Infrastructure

Futurity: We will be going home

Future Sites: Public House

Transit Housing