Can Architecture Help Housing?

Architects can no longer ignore housing issues.

April 15, 2006, 1:00 PM PDT

By Chris Steins @urbaninsight


"For decades... housing and community-building issues have been shoved off center stage. Architects were barely debating them, pretty much leaving the field to the New Urbanists. But now it's impossible to ignore housing, and not just because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. In city after city across America tall towers are being proposed or built, and they are not office buildings, but places to live.

...Here's my question: Now that architects are taking shots at one another over housing, can we do better than we did in the last century, which gave us sprawl for the middle class and Cabrini-Green for the poorest of the poor? Can we close the great divide between fetishistic formalism and social responsibility? Or are we doomed to a world in which architecture's leading practitioners use their work merely to comment on social tumult rather than actually trying to do something about it?"

"...There are dangers too along the Gulf Coast, although I found the New Urbanists' plans for Mississippi persuasive, at least in their attempt to diagram pedestrian- and transit-oriented cities and towns. The dipped-in-aspic nostalgic vocabulary I can do without, however, especially if it proves unaffordable to all but the rich and the haute bourgeoisie. If the New Urbanists produce something in Mississippi that resembles the River Garden mixed-income housing development in New Orleans â€" where faux French Quarter buildings, faux shotgun houses, and faux classical revival homes form one bland suburban blob â€" then the rebuilding will be a cultural catastrophe, substituting fake versions as the real ones are being demolished."

Thanks to New Urbanists Discussion Group

Sunday, April 16, 2006 in Business Week

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