A common architectural horror

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Livin' in the USA
Tags: , , , ,


As I was biking the other day, I rode past the site of a long-abandoned house. It was a large, well constructed, two-storey stone home built in the 1940s or 1950s, set on three acres, with a few small, poorly built abandoned houses also on the property. They were all gone, replaced by modern horrors of the type shown above.

What’s wrong with this picture? “Everything” is an acceptable answer, but there are a number of specific things, some visible, some invisible. As for the invisible, these are “piñata” houses, stucco (gunite) sprayed on chicken wire attached to particle board. As for how well they’re insulated, god alone knows. One thing I do know is that I wouldn’t want to own one twenty or thirty years down the road. (Actually, I wouldn’t want to own one now.)

The visible problems include their orientation and gross ecological unfriendliness. These homes face south, but do they take advantage of the abundant sunshine in southern Arizona for heat during the winter? No. They have a few small windows facing south, and no roof overhang, which would allow sun in in the winter, and would shade the windows during the summer. Then notice that their front “yards” are concrete driveways that soak up heat during the summer, and also reflect the sun directly onto the homes. Compounding matters, there’s no shade at all in front of these south-facing houses, aggravating the summer heat problem. Unless these places are extremely well insulated, which I doubt, their owners will be paying very large cooling and heating bills during the summer and winter.

Still another problem is the lack of a water collection system. Tucson gets about twelve inches of rain a year, so water harvesting (for use in landscaping and gardens–both of which keep homes cooler during the summer) should be a given. Here, the rain that falls on the houses and their driveways simply runs into the street. It’s pure waste.

But as bad as all this is, the social ramifications of this type of design are worse. It’s a design suited to cars, not people. It’s designed to minimize social interaction among neighbors, not foster it. It’s entirely possible for someone to live in on of these, get into their vehicle in the morning, leave without getting out of their car, and at night get home, activate the garage door opener, and drive in–all without ever seeing their neighbors.  Someone living in one of these could go weeks at a time without seeing another living human being during the hours they spend at home.

Then notice that there’s no front porch, no front patio, nowhere homeowners can spend leisure time and have a decent chance of seeing their neighbors. These houses are designed to isolate people. Their owners–like most Americans–undoubtedly complain about being lonely; and they don’t have a clue that their houses contribute greatly to the problem.

At times I despair of humanity. Housing like this is part of the reason.




  1. Susie says:

    Ugh how terrible! And they didn’t even bother to make them look nice–garages should never be so prominent!


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