Jeanne Gang's genius take on suburban housing

According to the MacArthur fellow and architect, design is a cause of and a solution to the problem of single family housing in suburbia.
Written by Sun Kim, Contributor

Jeanne Gang, the architect who was named a 2011 MacArthur "Genius" fellow, and Greg Lindsay, a visiting scholar at New York University, frame the role of the single family house in the financial meltdown. The architect and the scholar highlight the reciprocal problem of banks ignoring and undervaluing design in the housing market and architects ignoring and undervaluing housing, especially in the suburbs, as a design market.

In a NYTimes op-ed, Gang and Lindsay write

better design is precisely what suburban America needs, particularly when it comes to rethinking the basic residential categories that define it, but can no longer accommodate the realities of domestic life. Designers and policy makers need to see the single-family house as a design dilemma whose elements — architecture, finance and residents’ desires — are inextricably linked.

As part of the Foreclosed exhibit at MoMA, Gang studied the suburb of Cicero, Illinois, whose population is heavily immigrant and foreign born. Gang outlines her findings to illustrate suburban America's current problems and possible solutions.

According to Gang's study, new immigrants choose to live in the suburbs, not inner cities -- something that was unnoticed during the housing boom and bust. She argues that the single family house is inadequate and incongruous with the reality of life and wages in the suburbs. Single family houses in Cicero are often occupied by two, three, or more families to offset the high price, effectively creating multi-family units in single family neighborhoods and contributing to "unstable financial situations, neighborhood tensions and falling real estate values."

Instead of building new or building more, Gang and Lindsay propose reusing and rearranging existing buildings that are under--or mis--used. Areas to investigate include former industrial or commercial areas, which would also require loosening of zoning restrictions and designations. Gang and Lindsay also suggest a financial restructuring of lots and buildings into co-ops and community land trusts to foster and support responsible homeownership.

Gang's ideas are not overly artsy, Utopian concepts but practical and feasible moves that require only opening minds and unclenching fists. No one party caused the financial meltdown so it only makes sense that the solution is multidisciplinary. The genius part is including the responsibility, importance, and relevance of design.

Designing a Fix for Housing [NYTimes]

Image: Saucy Salad (Rebecca Wilson) Flickr

Related on Smart Planet:

Transforming the Chicago River with green design

‘Genius’ Fellow designs ‘humane, livable’ skyscrapers

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards