Why Dwell Needs the Sprawl Repair Kit to Win Re-Burbia

aerial rendering of strip center that has been urbanized, and with solar panels and vegetable gardens on its roof

   Dwell and inhabitat.com really need for the Sprawl Repair Kit to win Reburbia. And the rest of us do, too. Why? There are several reasons:

   The Sprawl Repair Kit goes to the heart of what Reburbia is supposed to be about: re-designing suburbia in a sustainable way. The T-Tree (the other chief vote-getter, with which the Sprawl Repair Kit is running neck-and-neck) amazingly ignores the program entirely! It appears to be located in a field somewhere, like the discredited idea of “towers in the park” proposed by Le Corbusier when he wanted to bulldoze central Paris. Where is the context? How does it re-design suburbia? It’s shocking that this project was even included in the finalists, given its wanton disregard for the aims of Reburbia to begin with.

   The Sprawl Repair Kit is based on things that work, and with which we can start making a difference today. The T-Tree is based on things that have been proven not to work. In addition to the cribbing of Corbusier, it’s a thinly-disguised rip-off of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat project in Montreal. You’ve likely noticed that Habitats have not been popping up in your neighborhood recently. How are we going to create sustainability with things that people don’t want? We won’t, of course. And this is only the beginning of the things that don’t work about T-Tree. Its sustainability is about as superficial as the cartoon leaf cutouts that are its windows. But beyond the fact that its architecture is unlovable by the non-architect, it doesn’t work in many other ways, either:

*Because it’s not connected to adjacent urbanism, you’ll have to drive everywhere, so by definition, the place will be completely unsustainable like the worst of sprawl. But where are the cars? Conveniently eliminated from the renderings. So this won’t even be towers in a park... it’ll be towers in a parking lot.

*It completely ignores its orientation, with equal windows and other surfaces facing North, South, East, and West. People, this is frugality 101! Orientation matters! Any first-year architecture student proposing such a thing should fail their design studio!

*How about thermal storage? These things look like thin-walled tin cans, with no obvious way to store heat. What kind of fools do they take us for, calling this “sustainable”?

   I could go on for hours about all the ways T-Tree is unsustainable, but you get the idea. But there’s another reason Dwell needs for the Sprawl Repair Kit to win: Whether or not you always agree with them about design, it’s clear that the editors of Dwell try to act responsibly and proactively in helping to build a better world. But the magazine repeatedly gets criticized for being all about style, chronicling nothing more than the fashion cycles of kinder, gentler Modernism. So here’s Dwell’s problem with T-Tree: if it wins, then it gives great force to its critics, who charge (unfairly, IMO) that the editors value style but not substance, and flash and dash but not things that work.

   The Sprawl Repair Kit, on the other hand, would be the best possible winner for Dwell because it delivers a highly useful set of sprawl repair tools to the editors. This, after all, was what Reburbia was all about, wasn’t it? So please give Dwell a hand, and vote for the Sprawl Repair Kit! Voting ends at midnight! Tell your friends!

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Monday, August 17, 2009 - 11:54 AM

Michael Rouchell

I noticed that the lack of railings at the balconies and the elevated bike path of  the Tree scheme makes it easier for the suicidal suburbanite unhappy with his/her surroundings to end it all.

Monday, August 17, 2009 - 12:12 PM

Ian Rasmussen

Agreed. Dwell has really forced its own hand. If T-Tree, or any of the other ridiculous proposals (i.e. "Airships") should win, they will have proved their magazine is a forum for hypothetical projects that look "cool" but have no chance of succeeding (and hopefully no chance of actually being built).

Monday, August 17, 2009 - 02:26 PM

Eliza Harris

I believe they have left themselves some leeway in choosing the finalist; that they aren't completely compelled to choose the highest votegetter. It will be interesting to see if they use that leeway. 

"Judges make the final call on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners, whereas ‘Reader’s Choice’ is determined exclusively by popular vote."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - 02:30 PM

What about entrepreneurbia

What about Entrepreneurbia? That seems to have been overlooked in this conversation. It's not at all unrealistic like the airbia or t-tree proposals. Like this repair kit, it too has a couple of small items to work out but it can be tested on one suburban complex very easily, just like this one.

I agree that this is an attractive proposal, don't get me wrong there. I'm  just a little hesitant to think that in a decaying area, an investor is going to want to buy land and build a business very quickly. I guess it would have to be a type of business that doesn't depend on locals to keep them afloat - because they can't even pay their mortgages. That never stopped Westerners from buying stuff they don't need though, hehe.

Anyway, here's a vote for entrepreneurbia too. At least this one isn't in textbooks already! Dwell would do better to name Entrepreneurbia as first and this one second so prove their forward thinking ways and not letting a textbook example win an innovative design competition.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - 03:39 PM

Steve Mouzon

For some reason, entrepreneurbia never caught my eye... let me take a look at it in more detail. As for the Sprawl Repair Kit being in textbooks already, that's a misconception. I know Galina personally and she's in the process of writing the book, but it isn't published yet. So it's really cutting-edge stuff, not something stale that's been out for years.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 - 05:21 AM

Steve Mouzon

I've gone back and looked at entrepreneurbia more thoroughly, and it clearly would be my second choice. Like the Sprawl Repair Kit, it identifies zoning codes as the biggest culprits of the creation of sprawl. Like the Sprawl Repair Kit, it focuses on techniques that can be used today, not decades down the road after new technologies might be developed (or not.) So why should it not be first rather than the Sprawl Repair Kit? Primarily because it does less to radically re-shape suburbia to make it a more walkable place. But still, it should be highly applauded!


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018