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MoMA exhibition sets out to address national foreclosure emergency and rethink architectural possibilities
Architectural model for Studio Gang Architects’ The Garden in the Machine project for Cicero, Illinois. Photograph courtesy of James Ewing. © 2011 James Ewing.

NEW YORK, NY.- Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, a major initiative to examine new architectural possibilities for American cities and suburbs in the context of the recent foreclosure crisis in the United States, culminates in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art from February 15 through July 30, 2012. Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream was jointly conceived and organized by Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Reinhold Martin, Director of Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. Bergdoll and Martin invited five interdisciplinary teams of architects—including members with expertise in economics, finance, housing, and public policy, in addition to architect team leaders—to develop proposals that offer new and inventive ways of thinking about the relationships among land, housing, infrastructure, urban form, and public spaces, for five sites across the country—near New York; Chicago; Tampa; Los Angeles; and Portland, Oregon—located in metropolitan areas that lie within a corridor between two major cities.

The five sites chosen have characteristics that make them particularly pertinent to nationwide challenges associated with the international financial downturn, including a significant rate of foreclosure, and a considerable amount of publicly held land available for development. The teams developed proposals based on the ideas drawn from The Buell Hypothesis, a research publication (available at and summarized in the publication accompanying the exhibition) by Mr. Martin, and Leah Meisterlin and Anna Kenoff of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center, which envisions a rethinking of housing and related infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the American suburbs. The resultant proposals are not a set of blueprints for the development of specific places so much as an array of visions that invite rethinking the physical and financial architecture of living, working, and commuting in the extended suburbs.

"MoMA has always aspired to be a showcase for the most significant and creative architecture and design work being done today...but there are times when it can also take the lead to serve as a catalyst to invite architects and designers to work in new ways on the most pressing issues of our times,” says Mr. Bergdoll. “Often these challenges are not posed by everyday commissions. Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream invited new dialogues between the disciplines that shape our environments in suburbs and cities, as well as between the financial and physical architectures of housing, transport, and daily life. Questioning outdated assumptions, the designs in turn invite new discussions about a territory too often ignored by the design professions and too often leapfrogged by developers—the first ring suburbs of major cities. These projects suggest more sustainable, more equitable, futures, filled with optimism for places where that is often in short supply."

"The foreclosure crisis revealed a crisis of the imagination that has delayed an urgently needed conversation about the default settings of the ‘American Dream’ and its most visible symbol, the suburban house. These projects can help start such a conversation," continues Mr. Martin.

The five interdisciplinary teams of architects—led by principals at MOS Architects, Studio Gang, WORKac, Visible Weather, and Zago Architecture—were each assigned a site within a U.S. megaregion, then developed proposals to address the issue of foreclosure in each area during the initiative’s workshop phase at MoMA PS1 from May to September 2011. Each team engaged in a cross-disciplinary conversation, analyzing and eventually imagining the redesign of their specific sites, from older east coast suburbs with rail connections to newer subdivisions accessible only by highway. During this initial phase, they discussed their projects with the public in a series of open studios. To follow the progress of proposals developed through the workshop phase, visit MoMA’s Inside/Out blog.

In the early weeks of the workshop phase, the teams spent time in their assigned megaregions—visiting potential sites for intervention, meeting with local residents and officials, and considering what type of architectural program would respond to the local needs and realities of the existing population. As a result, the proposals developed for the five sites provide radically different visions of a rethought surburbia. The proposal for Cicero, Illinois, responds to the need of multigenerational housing for new immigrants, while the proposal for Temple Terrace, Florida, calls for a new financial structure that transfers ownership of land from private developers back to the taxpayers, and proposes a reconvening of the town meeting as a forum. The proposal for East Orange, New Jersey, suggests transforming public streets into new mixed-use ribbon buildings. The proposal for Keizer, Oregon, seeks to increase the density of the city in an effort to ultimately increase the public’s access to nature, while the proposal for Rialto, California, adds variety to the existing identical large-scale housing system.

At the center of the exhibition are models, drawings, renderings, animations, and analytical materials produced by the five teams developed during the workshop period. In addition, the research presented in The Buell Hypothesis will be shown with contextual material in the gallery as background to the proposal.

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