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Aron Chang: A New Plan for Suburbia
Matthew Waxman, 6 Jul 09
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What is the future of suburbia? How should suburban populations and density grow? Aron Chang, 2009 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has proposed an answer. Chang's Master in Architecture thesis proposes a hypothetical firm, SunLoft: Design-Build, that sets out to re-conceive suburban propinquity and growth patterns through planning and housing design.

From his research on the expansive growth of Southern California suburbs, Chang discovered many homeowners illegally developing Accessory Dwelling Units. (ADUs are small housing units built on private property open space.) This increased suburban density but disturbed the city's overall quality of life. The dwellings were not to code (some were being built precariously) nor would a city receive tax revenue. This highlights a key problem also observed in squatter cities: the dwellings were being built without foresight to the impact and costs that an increased ad-hoc density would have on infrastructural services such as transportation and natural resources. Chang views the ADUs as informal housing.

SunLoft develops an urban design and planning strategy by which architects engage stakeholders -- from homeowners to city government –- to increase the infill density of a suburban community. By adapting zoning laws and working in a design-build method, homeowners are given a cost-effective way to appropriate their private land currently prioritized to garages, driveways and unused yards. Essential is also the street, which is extended, both as public realm and public resource, to city-operated lots for parking, interior to the suburban block.

SunLoft's scheme for infill also achieves particular criteria for environmental and human living performance. Chang designed a series of ADU housing prototypes that can accumulate in the suburban fabric, sensitive to orientation within the infill, adjacencies, daylight, ventilation, building materials and construction technique.

The strategy not only yields income to homeowners and the city but gradually destabilizes the formal and social homogeneity of suburbia, creating an evolution of the suburban neighborhood typology. The technique's lot-based temporal condition is particularly clever given financial struggles municipalities face and the need to begin changing how suburban growth patterns proliferate.

Aron Chang is currently Architecture Fellow with enviRenew in New Orleans.

This piece is part of Worldchanging's Attention Philanthropy campaign. All week long, the Worldchanging Network will be delivering "attention grants" to worthy projects, individuals, resources and more. You can learn more about these gifts of notice and find other entries by clicking here.

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Again with the growth?
Wouldn't a better ques
tion be "How do we avoid growth, and then reshape what we have for the people we have already into something more sustainable?"

Posted by: Eclipse Now on 6 Jul 09

Reformatting suburbia is going to be a reoccurring challenge throughout the century, and I think infill development is a necessary piece of attacking the issue. But I think the discussion has to be paired with the concept of proximity to both mass transit and living essentials.

Decreasing the use of the car in suburban developments and increasing social/community activity needs bike/walking travel to meet a larger portions of daily needs (including getting to mass transit.) Huge daily car commutes have to be lessened for suburbs to really reach a new sustainable existence.

Posted by: T. Caine on 6 Jul 09

What seems to be the truly important pretense in Mr. Chang's work is the research into how zoning laws can be reformed to allow shakeholder's (homeowners) more immediately and flexibly adapt to the economic conditions and necessities of the moment. It is not entirely growth that is the answer for the suburbs but rather a framework for a kind of resilience to larger economic forces as well as environmental ones.

Posted by: Nico on 12 Jul 09

Check out the Sky Method, which is a Transect-based system of development that works equally well for suburban densification:

Posted by: Steve Mouzon on 12 Jul 09

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