And a few days later the BBC picked up the trend of America’s increased interest in bicycles as transportation, not merely recreation:
“America is known for its enduring love affair with the automobile. But in the last few years cities across the US have reported a surge in bicycle use, as people search for greener, healthier – and cheaper – transport options.”
“…even the most bike-friendly US cities have years to go before catching European cities such as Copenhagen, where an estimated 30% of residents commute to work or school on a bicycle.
But Copenhagen cyclists have benefited from decades of pro-bike planning decisions, while US urban planners must overcome a century of energy politics and urban policy designed to promote vehicle use.”
Sarah Susanka is rather ironic, a bestselling author and ahead of her time. And now, every developer and real estate agent who would dismiss her “Not So Small” approach as a “niche” are suddenly all over her maxim. Her latest book on residential architecture is reviewed in the Atlantic City Weekly.
Downsizing the McMansion
Book Review: ‘More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home’
By Sarah Susanka
“Bigness, that staple of American values and culture, is, in the words of Heidi Klum, “Out.” (Note the capital “O.”) Mega, ultra, super, jumbo stuff has generally declined in popularity over this recent recession, first motivated by cost-cutting and, later, by the realization that life smells just as sweet (or even sweeter) without all the “extra” our bodies and budgets are perfectly capable of doing without.
In early 2009, the story broke that American homes were trending down in size for the first year in many. Authorities from the National Association of Home Builders, the American Institute of Architects and even groups of real estate professionals started noticing homeowners at all income levels beginning to express a preference for smaller, better-built homes — some even before the recession. And they project that the trend will continue when the recession is just a memory.
Enter Sarah Susanka, an architect and advocate of homes that are smaller, practically and efficiently designed, yet still beautiful and comfortable. With her first book a decade back, “The Not So Big House,” Susanka likely felt like the lone voice of reason crying out against excessively large homes in the wilderness of rapidly multiplying McMansions that was the American new-home market at the time.”
Vacationing on the outer Pacific Coast in Washington we made a detour to the planned community of Seabrook, WA and got to meet the very approachable Casey Roloff who is the proud father of this baby. From a planning perspective it’s a very good example of New Urbanism with a sensible approach to environment and community. It has a good feel that will only get stronger as the place matures and gets that lived in feel that only a bit of time can accomplish. But wandering the lanes and paths I couldn’t help wondering what it could have been if the buildings were contemporary. This recent Seattle Times article goes deeper:
Seabrook developer building community, not just homes
SEABROOK, Grays Harbor County — Developer Casey Roloff likes to say that he’s building a sense of “community” — one house at a time.
His 6-year-old beach town on a bluff overlooking the ocean is designed to make folks feel at home — from the bustling Front Street Café as you drive in, to the open, wooden box filled with balls and other sports equipment at the entrance to a centrally located park.
You can pick up a loaner bike to ride around the narrow streets of the town about three hours’ drive southwest of Seattle — or take your kids down to the beach to dig in the sand. Houses have colorful names like “The Lost Lobster” and “Hodge Podge Lodge.”
“It’s not about the view or the beach or the ocean,” Roloff says. “A lot of people come and buy a house, and the town is so compelling that they haven’t been to the beach, and they’re sold.”
In a recent gloomy and hand wringing report on Japan’s declining living standards and intractable economic stagnation, the New York Times’ Martin Fackler decries a unique solution to urban infill:
“The downsizing of Japan’s ambitions can be seen on the streets of Tokyo, where concrete “micro houses” have become popular among younger Japanese who cannot afford even the famously cramped housing of their parents, or lack the job security to take out a traditional multi-decade loan.
These matchbox-size homes stand on plots of land barely large enough to park a sport utility vehicle, yet have three stories of closet-size bedrooms, suitcase-size closets and a tiny kitchen that properly belongs on a submarine.”
While over at Inhabitat, a Japanese micro house is featured as a model of intelligent design:
“The Showa-cho House in Osaka Japan is an amazingly airy residence despite its miniscule 59 x 13-foot lot. Architect Fujiwara Muro made incredible use of the limited space available by building up and splitting the home in half with a staircase, which acts as both a transition space and delineates the private and public sides of the home without a wall. Plenty of daylight flows in, and a simplified modern interior streamlines the space, adding a tranquil feeling to a home dictated by a ten foot-wide interior dimension.”
Perfect Plank has long been a favorite material of mine. It’s a beautiful, versatile material for tables, stair treads, light shelves, bookshelves, countertops, column wraps and the like. It comes in alder, maple, plantation grown mahogany and even western red cedar for outdoor use.
Made to Last
Made from “finger jointing” and laminating off-cuts and wood from renewable sources, the lads at Perfect Plank offer a great value product. I love its heft; you can see and feel its thickness, up to a couple of inches. Because it’s not a veneer, dings and scratches can be sanded out and the surface refinished.
It’s a permanent, renewable, refinish-able, reusable and biodegradable material that will last for generations.
There are some “show-off” buildings that I love; the uplifting Bilbo is one such building, but all too often signature buildings that overreach can become a self-indulgent mess. In the world of prefabricated homes this is probably even truer as a decadent display will seem even more pretentious when repeated in multiples.
Witold Rybczynski’s succinct article in Slate makes the case for a little more restraint:
In Praise of the Anti-Icon
By Witold Rybczynski
“Painter Paul Klee once wrote that while painters could make wheels square, architects had to make them round. Not any more. In the past, public and institutional buildings were expected to convey a sense of solidity and order; today they can just as easily suggest collapse and disharmony. In his forthcoming book, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber takes aim at architects such as Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, and Daniel Libeskind, who, in a desire to create iconic architecture, frequently make their wheels square.
Silber, the outspoken president of Boston University for 25 years, excoriates these architects—and, by implication, their clients—for disfiguring, as he puts it, what should be a practical art. His spirited, if sometimes perfunctory, essay raises an interesting question: if not architectural high jinks, then what?
The new addition to the Seattle Art Museum, which opened last summer, provides one answer: an anti-icon. Instead of architectural pyrotechnics, the designer, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, opted for what, at first glance, appears to be almost corporate blandness. Almost, but not quite. The dull stainless steel suits the often overcast Northwest light, and the sliding shutters that control light entering the galleries create changing patterns on the exterior wall. The upper floors of this loftlike building, currently leased as offices, can be converted into gallery space in the future, when the museum expands. This pragmatic approach gives the museum maximum flexibility, although at the price of somewhat uninspired interiors.”