Let’s look at what we are starting with, what factors are influencing change and what the new model might look like.
It pays to have a little historical background. Most people take for granted that their house will feature certain basic elements that they understand are necessary for a home. And to some extent these are correct assumptions based on experience rooted in the commonality of American housing stock. Because the American housing landscape underwent fundamental change just after World War II. In terms of both the consistency of plan types and the sheer number of new homes reflecting this basic plan. And while houses have grown since the 50s, their components parts remain pretty much the same. This fundamental change was due to increased individual affluence and industrial might, a change in spirit, a maturation of our settlement instinct, and production and technological advances and several other key factors. The movement was catalyzed by entrepreneurs like William Levitt and catapulted by the automobile and the road systems.
But let’s go even farther back. Even the most modern home shares elements with the most primitive shelters; a place to cook, to eat, to gather, to sleep and in many cases to bathe. In a famous architecture textbook, there is an illustration of what might have been the first built home; a four posted box made from trees and while the image is somewhat romanticized, we are not all that far removed from that beginning which took place probably more than 10,000 years ago after some societies moved out of the cave. Without dwelling on the fascinating history of housing, suffice it to say that our homes in America today are still essentially boxes made from trees. Several fundamental factors combine to generate various housing forms over time. Among these are practical factors like available materials, technology and craft, and climate; and societal factors like relative wealth, culture and religion, family unit and lifestyle. We are blessed in this region with a stable of exemplary colonial era homes. A visit to any one of these will be rife with familiarity. But despite the recognizable cooking, sleeping and bathing components, the homes are really quite different from our post war models. A march through American housing history will tell us about slaves and servants, formality, family structure, labor costs, and American self-image.
Since 1950, a whole new sea change of societal, economic and technological factors has occurred. It looks like we could see housing changing too.