Friday, July 2, 2010

Merkel in NYT on When Less Was More in Housing

In the New York Times Opinionator Blog, architectural historian Jayne Merkel has published When Less Was More.  She notes the overlooked fact that for most of the "golden age" of American suburban expansion in the postwar years, the average suburban home was well under 1,000 square feet.

We tend to think of the decades immediately following World War II as a time of exuberance and growth, with soldiers returning home by the millions, going off to college on the G.I. Bill and lining up at the marriage bureaus.

But when it came to their houses, it was a time of common sense and a belief that less truly could be more. During the Depression and the war, Americans had learned to live with less, and that restraint, in combination with the postwar confidence in the future, made small, efficient housing positively stylish.

As we find ourselves in an era of diminishing resources, could “less” become “more” again? If so, the mid-20th-century building boom might provide some inspiration.

The article goes on to discuss the movements in early and mid 20th century architecture; the influence of modernism (but not Le Corbusier!), and has great photos ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright buildings to Levittown.  

But like much of American society, the middle-class home began to grow over time. The average size of an American house in 1950 was 983 square feet. Slowly, though, both more square footage and more amenities became part of the American dream, so that by 2004 the average home topped 2,300 square feet.

Land use is an inherently visual subject so the pictures are nice to see (curses on all those IP restrictions).  I'm always on the lookout for references to single-family housing as the "American dream" so I found this article particularly interesting.  H/t to Genevieve Coen.

Matt Festa

Architecture, Density, Housing, Planning, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink

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