Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Identity is 'round the back

Now that I've almost resumed my pre-AOA schedule, I'm reading the NY Times again on a nearly daily basis. Somehow today I ended up at this article on "Saving the Suburbs".

Near the end are some fascinating images, well worth looking at. But, in reading it I was reminded of two things out of my visual past:

When I was living in Canada, all three times, I often took trains from London to Montreal or from London to Kalamazoo, or from Hamilton to Cornwall or Detroit. One of the things I loved most about riding trains was that in the urban areas, you saw back yards--back yards of houses, apartment buildings, industrial structures. Scenes you would never have occasion to see unless you worked, lived, or had business at one of these structures.

In one of my graduate design classes with a master designer, I remember him saying about suburbia--starting with the idea which we all know, the little box houses that, row after row, all look the same--that though from the street you really can't tell them apart, if they were all reversed so that the back yards were in front, there would be instant individuality. Some with mini-playgrounds, some with pools, some with lush gardens, some with dog runs and picnic tables, etc. Awnings or not, porches or not, bird feeders or not.

Our dwellings in such settings are Janus-faced. Conformity in front, individuality to the rear. Maybe as satellite imagery gets better and better and closer and closer, all will be exposed.

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