We Need More “Democratic Architecture”

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At 400 square feet (37 square meters) per floor, there’s just enough room for the essentials. In most of these homes, two compact bedrooms and a minimal bath were on the ground floor and the open concept kitchen/living/dining space was upstairs, with high ceilings and a couple of skylights. It did everything a home needed to and allowed the residents to gradually modify and upgrade the space over time on a tight budget.

For historical context, the very first mass-produced, post-war tract homes built in 1947 in Levittown were 750 square feet (70 square meters), with two bedrooms, one bath, and an eat-in kitchen with no garage or basement. The Levittown homes that came later in the 1950s were still in the 900–1,100 square foot (83–102 square meters) range. These homes were explicitly meant to be added on to and modified over time by their owners.

It’s worth noting that homes of this size are currently illegal to build in most jurisdictions, due to minimum size requirements, mandatory covered off-street parking, etc. In addition, most new suburban subdivisions are highly regulated by private home owners association rules and procedures meant to prevent or strictly control modifications of any kind, right down to the color of the curtains and the kinds of flowers planted in the yard. The financial institutions that fund the construction of such developments typically mandate HOAs so it’s difficult to avoid these multiple layers of administration. Realistically, Levittown couldn’t be reproduced today regardless of any theoretical “free market.”

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