American cities will require significant investment in housing to satisfy the demand for urban living from both millennials and boomers. The core curriculum of most schools of architecture does not adequately address this typology. Housing design requires the artful balancing of conflicting agendas. The individual’s desire for privacy and unique identity are often at odds with the larger goals of collective form and urban density. These themes are as vivid in contemporary projects as they were in the early decades of the last.
For the first generation of modern architects, the design of housing was central to their mission of social reform through architecture. Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright all focused their creative energy on the problem of high density dwelling. The results of these experiments were mixed and the 1973 demolition of Yamasaki’s public housing project in St. Louis became a symbol of the failure of this mission. Architectural innovation in urban housing has largely been abandoned at all income levels in the U.S. Projects today are typically guided by conservative market forces and risk adverse government agencies. This is not the case in Europe where the last decade’s prosperity brought a renewed focus on housing design in conjunction with the renewal and expansion of urban centers.
This seminar will address housing design from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Though social, cultural and ecological issues will be addressed, typological continuities between historic and contemporary projects will be emphasized. Fundamentally the course seeks to establish a basis for engaging the following questions:
- How can dwelling form contribute to the future of American cities?
- How can housing design make medium and high density urban living affordable, and sustainable?
- Are historical typologies of housing (row house/courtyard/slab/ tower) meaningful today?
- How does the nature of contemporary sites influence our housing options?
- Are there housing strategies that conceive of the ground plane in new ways?