THE AMERICAN HOME: Revisiting ‘Rural & Urban House Types’

“We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb. The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free him from this condition…” Henry David Thoreau, 1854, quoted by Steven Holl

“Even in a cursory study of American house types, it is important to focus on basic forms to achieve an understanding of more complex and sophisticated ones.” Steven Holl, 1982

What is the role of architecture if not to project a vision of home for a better life? If we believe in the possibility of changing our society through the profession of architecture, an alternative way of living – in a time where stable structures fall apart and ideologies serve to promote war and violence – is urgently needed. Thus, our studio this fall is a call for a collective effort in searching for new forms of living.

How can we, then, using the conditions of today to our advantage, re-invent the contemporary house that is capable of fulfilling the needs of our diverse community? And how can the future homes of America become the foundation for a new social structure leading to a more sustainable future, a place where the ecology of our cities is fundamentally revised, and the rural and the urban are potentially reconciled? By taking the challenges of the present as a potential, we will, in this studio, re-imagine and design a large-scale communal housing in the context of contemporary America.

We will start the semester by referring back to the seminal work by Steven Holl in 1982 – Pamphlet Architecture 9: “Rural & Urban House Types”, which we consider as one of the most inspiring publications on American housing. Focusing on houses with basic form and geometric simplicity, the compilation of the pamphlet makes visible the underlying logic and conceptual principle of the most thought-provoking typological organizations. The pamphlet is our point of departure, guiding us through the diverse typologies of the American houses in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. A studio trip to New Orleans and a visit to New York will take us into the urban and the rural, where we will re-visit and re-examine selected house types, inviting Steven Holl as our guest for discussion. It is in these simple small houses that we hope to find something timeless and universal, which could be taken on to the present, and with which we might conceive a large house that we could have never imagined – a new home for America.

The studio aims to re-examine the fundamentals of architecture in the aspiration of combining historical knowledge and contemporary critical thinking. The concrete assignment consists of developing first a program/scenario for a new form of the American Home based on the analysis of the above-mentioned publication and on case study surveys. The actual project will then be designed by working with these typological precedents. The site for the project and the study trip will be in New Orleans.