“Reflect” was my proposal for a public art competition on a piece of land on Brattle Street near Harvard Square. The proposal uses common building techniques and materials to erect a monument intended to provide a space for individual contemplation on the state of our housing stock in the United States. The brief project narrative submitted with the proposal follows below as well as the original project board.
The notion of an “American Dream” has become inextricably linked with the goal of home ownership, specifically single-family home ownership.
For a variety of reasons we migrated away from our urban centers and became an increasingly suburban, ever sprawling populace during the latter half of the 20th century. During this time the single-family home evolved to represent much more than just shelter; the single-family home became a physical embodiment of our collective aspirations for upward mobility. We became incredibly efficient at creating and financing new single-family housing developments, but in the process we neglected to take the time to consider the implications of the manner in which we generate new housing. While average household size has decreased on average over the last 50 years, for example, the average home size has ballooned to more than double what it used to be, to the detriment of our natural environment. In short, this ever expansive model has resulted in a housing delivery system in the United States that leaves much to be desired.
This project proposal is intended as physical manifestation of the current bloated nature of our housing stock; it is a gilded cenotaph to our collective aggrandizement of the single-family home. As such, its construction mirrors that of so many suburban developments around the country. Using the most ordinary of building materials as a module, the 2×4 stud, a woven grid edifice is built which—like any number of housing tracts throughout the country—is completely alien to the local topography.
From afar the structure reads as a construction to the glory of the single family home. As one approaches the structure, however, it is revealed that this monument is nothing more than a fortress made of sticks. What seemed like solid gold is in reality a plastic imitation. Moreover, walking under the project one sees that what seemed to be a perfectly regimented allotment of units is in actuality an increasingly bloated grotesque culminating at the nave.
Save for the actual structure, the project site is purposefully left bare. Like countless suburban developments around the country, it is surrounded by nothingness. It is accompanied only by a paltry lawn, which is the only hint of nature on the site.
In the end, the site is intended as a place of reflection. Looking up at the nave one sees one’s self reflected, but it is not a true reflection. The image is as bloated as the caricature of a house itself. We did not arrive at this bloated state because of any single malevolent actors but rather as a result of our collective expectations of what defines a house. The project provides a venue at which to contemplate our individual contribution to the engorged nature of our housing stock, and whether or not it truly reflects our values and idea of home.