Architectural Record loves the single-family house. For almost 50 years, since we published architect Ulrich Franzen’s own home near Rye, New York, in 1956, this magazine has promoted Record Houses as laboratories for design. No other issue of the magazine is more popular with readers than this, serving up a platterful of innovative solutions to the modestly scaled freestanding building. Demonstration projects, these houses provide case studies, incorporating social ideals, formal concerns, and stylistic or material evolution into three-dimensional time capsules.
The temptation today might be to expand the franchise, commissioning a new generation of case-study houses, widening the explorations begun by John Entenza for Arts & Architecture magazine. As Thomas Mellins observes on page 112, who wouldn’t wish to build another Eames house? Yet, as excellent as that groundbreaking program proved to be, the A&A case-study houses addressed a specific milieu: California in the years following 1945, where Modernist steel-framed structures were created for a burgeoning middle class in a paradisiacal, benign climate.
What, we wondered, is the case in 2003? To answer that question, Architectural Record convened a panel of housing experts last month, inviting a select group of architects and a demographer to lunch, where we discussed contemporary issues in houses and housing. You will be able read about the results of that luncheon in a subsequent article. The single-family house, the group declared, seemed to be well served, continuing to attract skillful work on custom homes for the educated or affluent and provoking attention to new processes, including prefabrication.
While Architectural Record will continue to report on advances in single-family residential design, the experts asked us to consider housing in the aggregate. What happens when we put houses together, exploring how the pieces fit together and how the individual modules cohere? The question of multifamily housing has never been more important. Achieving greater residential density, a problem vexing most architects, constitutes design’s Holy Grail—decelerating the centrifugal force of sprawl and reducing our need for petroleum products.
Programmatically, the case for multifamily offers a variety of issues. Its vast potential clientele encompasses a range of house types and inhabitants, from ready-to-wear to blue chip. Solutions range beyond shape and array: economic, social, even legislative questions span across the demographic spectrum. Projects need not remain frozen in time, but can evolve, allowing the housing to expand or shrink with changing social demands.
At the same time, by soliciting and showing the best new examples of multifamily housing, we are describing a new urban framework. Think of a low-rise/high-density multiplication problem in which duplexes double to quads, to blocks, to neighborhoods in an iterative approach. The ideal stretches from the English New Town to today.
Throughout the coming months, Architectural Record will proceed to highlight examples of the best solutions for proximate living, scouring the newest additions of Amsterdam’s Borneo Sporenberg and downtown San Diego. At the same time, we will formulate a new case study, to result in demonstration housing for the coming year: multiple, evolving, reflecting the new dynamics of society.
The new case raises questions. In the era of the megahouse and the S.U.V., can we find satisfaction in compression? Does the American ideal demand a fulsome plot of earth? Will we discover the next chapter to New Urbanism? What is the meaning of family? While we treasure our editorial legacy, and will expand on it, we ask if it is possible to expand the creative American ideal beyond the Record House. Join us on the case.