METAURBAN / by Christoph Kaiser

MetaUrban was coined as part of my graduate thesis at Harvard in 2002, to describe a typology of architecture designed to ‘fill in the gap’ between the urban and the suburban.  These realms often meet abruptly and awkwardly, or remain separated by a no-man’s-land of un-development.  Phoenix, especially in 2002, was an easy study in this oil and water phenomena.  Our urban core was, and still is, surrounded by a surprising number of undeveloped dirt lots and blighted suburban communities.  The Metaurban might be described as mixed-use typology that is urban in scale and suburban in spirit.  It takes the diagram of small town America with it’s bank, bakery, church and courthouse at the center, surrounded by parks, surrounded by a community of houses, and folds it vertically.  The thesis went something like this:

ASSUMPTIONS

01 The dominant form of housing in our 20th century American city is the suburban single family detached home.

02 The conception of home is distinct from housing by means of unique, subjective yet tangible sentiments transferred to its inhabitants, such as feelings of ownership, individuality, belonging, purpose, and history.

03 These sentiments, which are inherent to the suburban single family detach home, render it superior to any other typology of housing in the eye of the consumer. This accounts for its prevailing propagation.

04 While these sentiments can be ascribed to physical characteristics and associations found in the typology, the sentiments are not contingent on the composite physical configuration of the suburban single family detached home.

05 Examination of these sentiments and physical characteristics show that the suburban single family detached home is rooted in essentially rural ideologies, hinged on the idea of living in a realm perpetually just outside the city. This image of home has not deviated from its small town and even rural origins, despite changes in our settlement patterns. 

THESIS:  Home and city are not mutually exclusive as our history of architecture and urban planning would indicate. The unique sentiments of 'home' can be extended to a housing typology which is sited in the city, and not in an auxiliary realm like the suburbs. If the suburbs have historically offered a retreat from the city, this typology, without forfeiting the fundamental sentiments of home, offers a retreat in the city.