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Stylish Suburbia

Part 2 Project 2000
Andrew Reader
Oxford Brookes University | UK

My project is based on scale, architecture and the urban environment, and it ranges from the design of an object through to a residential development. There are various themes and chains of thought which run through the project, and link the different parts into a whole.

Part 1 - The object:

My initial explorations involved gathering images and texts relating to food and culture. I was interested in the way that technology layers itself in the domestic kitchen, the most fashionable room in our homes today. I also became fascinated by the preparation of food and the symbolism of transformation involved. Hence the object that I designed was a chopping board with integral television screen, the I-CHOP, a style-conscious entity which reflects the media popularity of cooking in contemporary culture.

Part 2 - The interior:

This led me on to a study the spatial relationship between the natural and cultural transformations of food, from raw to cooked. Out of this came a proposal for three interconnected rooms, each with visual links to each other, and comprising a mushroom room, a kitchen and a dining room. The mushroom rooms represents the natural transformation of food from seed through to rot, and so the interior of this room will be dark and humid, ideal for growing mushrooms. The kitchen is a linear space, representing the transitional nature of food preparation, and the dining room is a light, airy space which reflects the cultural consumption of food.

Part 3 - The residential block:

The concept of cultural transformation led to the design of a residential development that could set a new pattern for suburban housing, not only to address some of the problems of living in suburbia, but also to make the suburbs a cool place to live. The site that I chose is in Acton, not exactly the most fashionable place to live in London, and is located along the A 40 M arterial road into London. The site was chosen to typify the unloved, derelict wastelands that exist along busy main roads, and which most people see as totally undesirable.

New housing blocks are laid out in rows with various sizes of gaps in between to accommodate activities such as parking, sports pitches, orchards, playgrounds etc. The scheme proposes to increase suburban densities, in order to make it more ecologically sustainable and to bring more urban benefits. The project predicts the development of a new type of suburban environment, similar to what Rem Koolhaas has called “lite urbanism”, which is based on the stimulation of desire. The principal strategy for densification is to place the traditional back garden onto the roof of the house. This reconfiguration of the garden also challenges notions of privacy in the suburban environment. Plot sizes are based on how much land a family would need to be self sufficient in vegetables (160 sq.m for 4-6 people, and 120 sq.m for 2 people).

Each block itself consists of nine houses that are fitted together in a jigsaw-like fashion. The intention is to create a genuine diversity and individuality of space, breaking the idea that suburbia has to be spatially homogenous in nature. There are three distinct house types on offer: a ramped house, which allows direct access to the roof garden; a courtyard house, which brings light into the heart of the block; and a greenhouse house, which furthers the idea of domestic agriculture by making the circulation spaces into places where food and plants can be grown. By reconfiguring traditional suburban elements, and by blending in a cooler urban sensibility, suburbia might finally escape its reputation of being a “boring” place to live, and provide some genuine architectural diversity for its inhabitants.

Andrew Reader


Andy's project is based on a simple question: what would happen if living in suburbia was to become more stylish and fashionable than the trendiest of our metropolitan areas ? Imagine that people cringed with embarrassment every time that they had to admit that they lived in Clerkenwell or Chelsea, and instead glowed with inner confidence simply because they possessed that certain address in Acton or Balham. What would happen to demographics, land values, architectural prejudices ?? But the project he proposes is one of cultural cross-fertilization, not hostility. Rather than reinforcing the current divide between the chic areas of London and their frumpy alter-egos in the suburbs, what is suggested instead is a hybridisation of the best of the two conditions - just like Ebeneezer Howard's proposed marriage of town and country through the garden city. Which of us could be disappointed if we could have a large garden, copious communal and commercial amenities, cafe society, vegetables coming out of our ears, Wallpaper* interiors, and all the peace and quiet when you want it.

The means to achieve this, according to Andy, consists of a substantial densification of suburban development. This, combined with the distortion and overlapping of domestic and exterior spaces, creates the architectural diversity that suburbia simply cannot provide at the moment. What is provided by this project are some exquisite and stylish representations of what a more desirable suburban environment might be like. Gardens are superimposed onto roof planes which warp and weave to provide unique and ever-changing spaces and views. The notion of taking a large housing scheme and making it a vehicle for diversity and individuality has been a recurrent theme in social housing design, but always it is done with a sense of apology. Never has it really had quite this twist, or been given such a positive re-evaluation. The way that desire and domestic life are enmeshed is taken through all the levels of scale within the project. The sequence of room interiors in the house fetishises the manner in which we have bestowed onto food an accentuated ritual of preparation and consumption. And what we find in the technological nerve-centre of the modern home, the kitchen, is that even the humble chopping board has been fused with a television or LCD screen. Now we can chop tomatoes on the head of that annoying celebrity chef, while nicking his or her magical formula for transforming our life though cookery.

• Page Hits: 3001         • Entry Date: 09 February 2000         • Last Update: 10 May 2001