Modern Housing

History/Theory

Fall 2012

Gwendolyn Wright, instructor

Housing has been a prime site for experiments throughout the history of modern architecture. Today’s modernists recognize that innovation does not preclude comfort, delight and familiarity. Nor is there a single standard: housing or dwelling is at once a universal human need and a diverse panoply of forms and social conditions.

This seminar explored key themes and examples of 20th- and 21st-century modern housing. We focused on fundamental questions about continuities and innovations. How have architects addressed cultural norms about “home” and “housing” over time? We ranged across multiple scales from the individual body, the room and the wall to larger composites of housing complexes, production systems, social services, environmental factors and economic challenges.

The first half of the class surveyed and compared a broad range of examples from iconic social-democratic housing estates of Europe in the 1920s and progressive American enclaves of that era, to more recent prefab prototypes in Sweden, informal barrios in Caracas, the mix of market-rate and social housing in Amsterdam and affordable housing in the U.S. Students in the Housing Studio worked with students from other programs and other departments across the university.

Students presented research projects during the last third of the class. They also commented on one another’s presentations with great insight, which quickly lifted the level and self-awareness of everyone’s work. Topics included UN-Habitat proposals for the Middle East, John F.C. Turner’s work in Latin America, contemporary projects in Sao Paulo’s favelas, UDC projects in Brooklyn, Joseph Eichler’s suburbs in northern California, Chinese gated communities, post-WWII and more recent housing projects in Mexico City, barracks for illegal immigrants and the use of recycled materials in recent housing.