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The Case for new Case Studies

The need for revolutionary housing solutions may be one of the most important issues we face as architects in the upcoming years. In my article “Density=Destiny: Broadening the Local Sustainable Discussion” written in 2005, I outlined how the leaderless sprawl that had governed the Phoenix, Arizona growth plan for the last few decades was absolutely unsustainable. Unfortunately, the uninsulated and crashing home prices in these fringe areas seem to prove my point.

The Case Study housing program (1946-1966) provided 36 individual home designs focused on new modes of living. Decidedly modern, these solutions have provided a foundation of living style and substance for architects for the past 50 years. But what about the next 50? Are we simply to design the next updated box (with incorporated green principles for PC value), repeat it 100 times on the same .25 AC lot subdivision, and call it an advancement over what the current big builders are doing? The answer is obviously “no”, but leads to -“so, what then?”

I think there are a few correct answers. One has to be higher density. Density isn’t a four letter word. Good examples of  it are around. Portland had a large competition last year, and the entries were fantastic:  http://www.courtyardhousing.org/entries.html

Also, there is a growing movement towards adaptive reuse. In most cities (and especially in Phoenix) there are droves of infill lots that need to be re-imagined. Lots closer to center city. Lots large enough to contain a variety of living spaces as well as support functions. Lots that deserve to be something more than empty paved parking lots and abandoned retail strips. There are also good examples of this, and this book makes the case as well as any I’ve seen: http://www.amazon.com/Retrofitting-Suburbia-Solutions-Redesigning-Suburbs/dp/0470041234

The case for new case studies, then, is this: We of course need to study and test and recommend and provide the housing solutions for the next wave and follow the course of study to its logical end, even if the end is something unexpected. The answer isn’t likely singular.

0 thoughts on “The Case for new Case Studies”

  1. George,

    Just curious about your comments on density. I specifically purchased an older (early 70’s) home due to the fact that neighborhoods were not so dense in this time period. My two previous homes were purchased for much the same reason – one of them being 2.5 acres. I guess I like space between me and my neighbors. I am not sure that I am all that unique though. Poeple always comment negatively about the homes in new neighborhoods being “stacked” on top of one another. But, that is the product that is out there so people buy it.

    I understand the development side. It is expensive to build homes so you want to get as much out of the land as possible. But this just leads to narrow roads, small parks (almost appearing to be an after-thought) and homes that are vertical and “skinny”. It is in this context that I like the idea of “revitalization” of older areas of town. It would seem to be a worthwhile investment for the local city/county governments to promote. If there is incentive….someone will build it.

    I guess I am one of those that does think of “density” as a four letter word. How do you see the type of density that is currently used in residential development being “tweeked” to be more sustainable and functional?

  2. Hi Greg,
    That is exactly what this blog is about – trying to find these answers. You aren’t wrong about your feelings towards density, but I’m also starting to think about density as it applies to “builder’s scale” – not “how many units can I shove into this one project”, but “how many units do I need to build each year so I can keep doing the kinds of projects that define us.”
    Obviously a work in progress – thanks for folding in to the conversations. Great comment.

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