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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Suburban Oregon town gets publicity in MoMa exhibit

MoMa exhibit: "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream" will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, from February 15 through July 30 of this year. The exhibition, which is relevant to the Northwest and other U.S. regions, is an exploration of new architectural possibilities for cities, and primarily suburbs in the wake of the recent foreclosure crisis. Five interdisciplinary teams spent the summer of 2011 envisioning new housing and transportation infrastructures that could "catalyze urban transformation." The exhibition features the culmination of the "architects-in-residence," through models, renderings, animations, and analytical materials.
Five suburban cities were chosen for the project, from Keiser Oregon, to others in New York, Chicago, Tampa, and Los Angeles, in response to the Buell Hypothesis, a study conducted by Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. Essentially the 436-page study comes down to this basic idea: "If you change the dream, you change the city." Or put another way, if you change the narratives guiding suburban housing, then you can change the city. Priorities including spatial arrangement, ownership patterns, balance between public and private, and a mixture of activities and services, were considered in the analysis. A wide range of quantitative and qualitative factors were considered, including; foreclosure rates, poverty rates, population trends, and commuting times.
Keizer, Oregon is one of the cities that were focused on by WORKac, to come up with "inventive solutions for the future of the American suburbs." Their solution, entitled Nature-City, reinvents British urbanist Ebenezer Howard's concept of a city that combines the conveniences of urban life with the health benefits and access to agriculture of country living. It "integrates density, diversity, a mixture of uses, and a variety of housing types ranging in affordability, and incorporates ecological infrastructure, sky gardens, urban farms, and public open space, including large swaths of restored native habitats."
Although the exhibit is visually stimulating and beautiful, there has been some backlash at the concept driving the designs. In the March 2012 edition of Architect magazine, Felix Salmon has his own ideas about the MoMa show. In his article "Dream Deferred" he focuses on the misguided ideologies put forth by the teams, which consisted of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers. Salmon has three main arguments to support why he thinks the exhibition fails in his eyes. First, the idea of 10,000 people living in the same development (which each of the five cities proposes in one way or another) is "cutting against the very impulses that drive people out of the city into the suburbs in the first place." Second, Salmon insists that the five architectural practices coming from cities like New York, LA, and Chicago "parachute" into these relatively poor suburbs and spend very little time actually talking to the residents. Then they pitch a project only a city-dweller could love and only a socialist could finance. Lastly, Salmon thinks that the proposals do not allow for organic growth. They are basically mini-cities where the residents have to fit into a preconceived plan, where costs are front-loaded and financing seems to magically appear whenever the municipality needs. Although the article was negatively charged, the author made some very valid points.
After seeing both sides to the story, the exhibition at MoMa is still a worthwhile exploration. If not for the beautifully rendered and exciting imagery, then for an in-depth look at finding new possibilities for the future of the American suburbs and the American Dream. For more on this article go to:

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