ALEJANDRA SANCHEZ TATA AND SUSANA CHINCHILLA: Post-Normative Suburbia: A Codex for Levittown

Uniform Sense of Nowhere

          Global capitalism distributes commodified architectural typologies that are stripped of uniqueness and cultural character. Effectively, buildings are standardized, generalized and spread to create a uniform sense of nowhere. Specifically, the commodification of American suburbs has established a pathology for normalcy aiming to maintain a patriarchal, outdated and false idea of the American Dream. 

           This project surrealistically re-situates the relics of capitalist development of single family homes and globally branded commercial sellers, to criticize  the  banal redundancy of domestic architecture that promotes classist, racist and sexist homogeneity.

          We are challenging aging notions of domestic normativity to propose a Surrealistic dreamscape that will allow for differences to be expressed among the users and heighten personal and individual desire. Surrealism is recuperated as an aesthetic as well as a political world changing and world making proposition.

Breaking the frame of the Single Family Home

        We are all levittowners, living under the consumerist illusion of individualism. The suburban home, specifically, was created as a commodity to be duplicated for profit in order to package a lifestyle and unburden housewives who were bound to the house. Fordist models for house-making, were originally all-white neighborhoods that encouraged sexism and segregation. Perfectly distributed lots accommodated a house with a pastoral front lawn, a backyard, and space for independent transportation. In the American Dreamscape, the home has performed as a boundary for people and objects to inefficiently and unproductively exist within sexist and racial binaries. These spatial organizations promote uniformity and sameness in society and architecture. Levittown is the historical source of suburbanism, a model that has since been reappropriated, deployed, and commercialized around the world. The 2010 census stated that unlike other suburbs, Levittown has remained almost 90% white. In the new Levittown, the single family house is no longer for one family, but for many occupants to co-live, co-perform, promoting creative and collective productivity. Here, habitation and individual thought are fluid, open, and welcome.

          In the American Dreamscape, The House is bound to aesthetic covenants that establish heteronormative spaces and racial and class homogeneity.  Domestic objects are created through mass-distribution, and commodified industrialization. And Culture is reduced to global brands, through a lack of specificity, and appropriation.

Codex of Levittown's Global Objects

Click on New Global Objects

Encyclopedia of Homely Objects

          Lists, classifications, and vertical stratification are elements integral to maintaining order in the American pathology of normalcy. Through flexible classifications, we outline the ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies of classifying objects and people as a way to organize and contain human thought. Looking past the conventional associations of commodified objects, we are able to redefine and reassemble objects and their qualities to promote a new way of consuming.

table
chairs
bed
sheets
nightstand
lamp
clothing
blinds
toilet
shower
bathtub
TV
computer
flowers
books
car
bike
doors
walls
fence
umbrella
wine and beer
food
frozen food
delivered goods
pillow
bookcase
window flap
bed
sheets
nightstand
lamp
blinds
broom
mop
chimney
windows
doors
walls
umbrella
wine and beer
frozen food
pillow
insulation
brick
street lamps
socket
toolbox
hangers
window flap
Cabinets
wood floors
table
cutlery
plates/bowls
glasses
sheets
nightstand
lamp
clothing
blinds
bathtub
tile
garden
flowers
books
trees
shrubs
chimney
windows
shingles
fence
address #
rug
vacuum
pillow
picture frame
bookcase
brick
street lamps
clock
window flap
vase
Stove
Oven
refrigerator
water
bed
toilet
shower
broom
mop
washing machine
drying machine
lawnmower
hose
barbecue
books
car
bike
trees
shrubs
chimney
gutter
windows
doors
walls
floor
umbrella
diapers
wine and beer
milk carton
orange juice jug
ladder
vacuum
food
frozen food
delivered food
produce
street lamps
sprinkler system
socket
phone
clock
medicine
wood frame
Stove
Oven
hand tools
refrigerator
water
sink
table
cutlery
plates/bowls
chairs
glasses
clothing
toilet
broom
mop
washing machine
drying machine
TV
computer
lawnmower
hose
barbecue
books
car
chimney
coat rack
diapers
checkers
chess
wine and beer
milk carton
orange juice jug
vacuum
food
frozen food
delivered food
produce
bookcase
street lamps
sprinkler system
socket
phone
clock
hangers
medicine
sidewalk
computer
books
car
bike
floor
ladder
rug
delivered food
picture frame
bookcase
street lamps
phone
clock
Cabinets
wood floors
table
cutlery
plates/bowls
chairs
glasses
TV
garden
pool
barbecue
car
chimney
address #
coat rack
checkers
chess
food
produce
brick
safe
street lamps
phone
hangers
vase
Stove
Oven
refrigerator
broom
mop
washing machine
drying machine
lawnmower
hose
flowers
books
trees
shrubs
chimney
umbrella
diapers
wine and beer
vacuum
insulation
sprinkler system
toolbox
medicine
wood frame
wood floors
chairs
clothing
blinds
garden
lawnmower
hose
barbecue
trees
shrubs
chimney
windows
shingles
walls
fence
address #
vacuum
pillow
picture frame
street lamps
sprinkler system
window flap
Vase
pool
pets
food
delivered goods

360° Portrait of a Liquid Suburbia

          This Virtual tour is a form of non-linear story telling where experiences are guided by the classifications chosen by the user. Each space was created by recombining different objects from the classifications. Because of the flexible nature of the categories, spaces often have multiple associations. Following the prompts within the 360 tour will demonstrate the application of the categories throughout our new Levittown. 

Virtual Tour

          A shower can be seen as belonging to: About Solitude (because it is a solitary activity), For a Continued Existence (because hygiene is arguably essential), and Those That Alter (because it transforms the state of your body). Coupling the activity of the shower with objects from classifications like About Consumption creates a scenario for communal showering, where the source of water is a Coke Tower or a Plastic straw piping system. By exploiting these different forms of identification through surrealist practices, strange, yet productive and compelling object relationships emerge within domestic life, forming new global objects.

Site Plan

The house only exists through its mechanized suppliers. The adjacent construction of commercial sellers is conducive to the consumerist wastelands formed through the interiorization and accumulation of homely products. In these places, once meaningful objects are made banal and replaceable. The New Levittown reverses the monotonous effects of consumption, and gives ordinary objects useful meaning. 

          In this surreal game of reordering, object materiality and spatial qualities are maintained to inform the architectural response.  Piercing the peripheries of suburban planning, we transform the meaning of symbolic domestic icons. The front yard is no longer about appearances, the backyard is public, bedrooms are exposed. Interiors are reformatted and stretched into the exterior to accommodate many choices for user experience.  Meanwhile, grass, street, fence, and signage puncture and reorder interiors to create bizarre public/private thresholds. The tension between what is surreal and what is not, becomes increasingly strange in a fictitiously normalized environment. 

The Persistence of Consumption

Of A Continued Existence

Surrealist World-Making

Suburbs of a Paranoic Critical Town by Salvador Dali, 1936

          Surrealism is not abstract, but instead it is a return to the concrete, a game of juxtaposition of unlikely elements to highlight the sensual experience of life. The surrealist vision emerges through the highly specific representation and recontextualization of frequently understood items and concepts, so as to highlight a situation rather than a particular object. Surrealism presents a believable dreamstate where the absurd arises out of the ordinary. Breaking the individualistic nature of suburban hyperspace to become a collective performative space, we can explore the possibilities of the home through surrealism.

Leonora Carrington describing Mexico City of the future: “tins of Norwegian enchiladas from Japan’ and ‘bottles of the rare old Indian drink called coca-cola.”

Constance Classen. Sugarcane, Coca-Cola, and Hypermarkets. Cross-Cultural
Consumption Global Markets, Local Realities

          Suburban practices and capitalist economy create absurd juxtapositions at urban and architectural scales that have become normalized. (A catholic church sharing a wall with Carpet Depot) Our site is a fictitious composite that joins and exaggerates existing domestic and commercial spaces. The project addresses these conditions through surreal tools that appropriate, rearrange, and subvert programmatic, social, and architectural associations. Through strategic recombination and unexpected juxtapositions, we simultaneously domesticate and commercialize space.

            Relationships between  pastoral dreamscapes, fences, department stores, sidewalks, churches, and single family homes create programmatic and organizational combinations that test new surreal architectural thresholds. Our proposal allows for individuals to excavate their personal pasts and desires to locate their own topological landscape in imaginative collectives. The individual and the collective is blurred in a surrealism of defamiliarizing recombination of programs and objects.

 

Scenario Models

Pages from Codex Serafinianus by Luigi Serafini, 1993

           Challenging Levittown’s retroactive suburban methods for alienation, New Global Objects and urban interventions juxtapose and recombine programs and objects to promote collective scenarios as experiences that break the individualistic dreamland.The result is a stage for performative living, where experiences and activities contradict the American pathology for normalcy.

          We are imagining a world made strange through banal objects, questioning what is established as normal through commodified consumption and aesthetic covenants. 

…I’m Opening the Door…

My guest is here! At my brand-new door… Door which I rented this morning… Comes with Nothing but an address and wine… 

…Mom’s Unlocked Living Room…

Broken-up frame by frame… Everything available, nothing can hide… I sit on the sofa looking at the sky…while you stare at me through the bedtub… 

…I’m Taking a Shower…

I’m going to the shower garden…I need to plug in my shower…My dog has his own… he showers next to me… Next to my neighbor

…I’m Picking up the Mail…

I look down, my flag is up…The mail is here! I find my box along the most decorative walls… The Global Buffet of Infinite deliveries

…The window… 

a thin long window…  the blinds, made of silky green fabric, covering but are so long they become the sheets on the bed, towels when you shower, and the veil of the bride…

 … I Mow the Lawn… 

I ask the church to borrow the razor and scissors… walk back to your house and get down on all fours… It is an honor to shave your lawn… 

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7 Comments

  1. Timothy Morton

    As sufferer from middle America for many years, I seriously think that the lawn should be one of the “that which transports you” categories. They have this extraordinary inside-outside quality as if the house was sticking out its tongue and showing you what it ate…have you seen Gregory Crewdson’s Twilight Series of photographs? Amazing, disturbing critical weirdness, well in line with what you’re up to here.

  2. Aaron Betsky

    Wonderfully inventive and evocative. I wish you had chosen a contemporary, cul-de-sac suburb, rather than the cramped and very outdated model of Levittown. The growth of the suburban home and its attendant retail has already been surreal for quite a few decades, as artists and musicians have noted before –there are quite a few music videos that are more surreal than what you have, I am afraid. Having said that, I think the strongest part of the project is the reorganization of home and retail, public and private, and in and out into new and absurd collages whose connections imply a hidden world, where paranoia and release mingle in the unconscious and perhaps just under the skin of the freshly mown lawn. In that vein, if your imagery were a bit more peeled from the normal, rather than evoked from the surrealist tradition, it might have a stronger comeback effect. Is this just another suburb, or, what is it I see out of the corner of my eye?

  3. The technique of categorization you set up, as a means of reordering this cultural/social/architectural environment is well done, and powerful in the critique of suburbia , etc. (and as you phrased it the: “boundary” of the American home).

    The drawings and narrative are fascinating, and make me wonder how you’d describe the re-defined boundaries you’ve generated by/through these representations. How are these boundaries similar and/or different to the ones you’re critiquing, on a minute level? A comparison such as this would be an interesting way of ‘measuring’ the techniques and outcomes of the critique you’ve constructed against the original boundaries you’ve defined (such as a comparison of orthographic projection/cuts of the new recombinations and uses of these spaces – – especially between the American suburban home represented in photography earlier on in the presentation and the new forms/boundaries of living and consumption created through your technique of recombination).

  4. Lori Brown

    The format you created is excellent – really appreciate the humor and execution with very nice representation – testing ideas through a variety of mediums. It was fun to interface with. You were able to use the virtual to your advantage, without a doubt. I offer my comments only to enhance what is already is a very good thesis.

    The work raises many questions that I thought about as I interfaced with the online platform:

    Role of the absurd:
    How does the absurd work to reposition domesticity and domesticity for whom? What role is the absurd? What role does aesthetics play in the critique?

    How are different domestic relations supported? What are these different sorts of spatial relationships? Can these become even more absurdist through these programmatic mash-ups?

    Who are your other influences?
    It would also to know who are your influences – from a theoretical and historical perspective beyond what I am reading? I see several and can offer a few more:

    I see a homage to Denise Scott brown and Robert Venturi and the decorated shed

    A playful engagement with the banality of what Levittown has become known for.

    Dolores Hayden, “what would a non-sexist city look like?” Her work on the suburbs, Redesigning the American Dream,

    Your project could make more of Issue of reproductive labor given that the suburbs maintained the gendering division of labor and were isolating spaces for women. I would encourage you to look at the work of both Silva Fredrici and Nancy Fraser who are both feminists and write about these issues in quite searing and though provoking ways.

    Critique of capitalism:
    How can a surrealist approach, that as you write “where the absurd arises out of the ordinary” allow you to be even more critical and instrumental in the rethinking of the suburban? I think there is more agency to be leverage in the work than you tap into. Although I greatly appreciate the humor, I think there is a way to channel that humor into a more biting critique of Levittown.

    What about the Demographics then? Now? And proposed as a speculation as the country moves to minority majority by 2030?

    How renovations have operated over time in Levittown? There is some great documentation of this where you see the houses beginning to mirror scaled down mcmansion that are quite absurdist in style and scale.

    How do you eliminate all redundancy and create a hyper-efficient system that was once predicated on utter consumptive practices?
    Your project does highlight this but what about financial value which connects back into capitalist structures?

    How does gender and race and cultural practices influence your thinking? I read a homage to the Mexican adaptation of single-family housing but how else can cultural differences and gender differences provoke different housing and community models?
    Your showers, vegetable growers, among others speak to this; what others are possible?

    What about waste and waste management? Energy production and consumption – singular to block? To neighborhood?

  5. Initial Thoughts…it’s now 1:00 AM. Probably an appropriate time to consider this project, with sleep and work hours reversed.
    -The juxtaposed objects long to deform, debond and descale..they still maintain a recognizable identity…can these uniform objects be modified and adapted for cultural diversity…as they were found in the houses of the white people of Levittown.
    -Post WW II produced the current Boomer generation…then a cohesive family unit..now aging into the 60’s, 70’s..where are they now? Did you find anyone that lived there then…what is the domestic trajectory of their story? Would they tell a different one?
    -The various ways to forget and defy…a dream state…an escape from the gritty city…generational dreams….
    -Juxtapositions seem not only of fragmented objects, but there is a language assembly in the description…in the reach for a sensual language..there could be more sensual or emotional language…the ha ha church..
    -Exhibitionism is a subtext..When one thinks of the 50’s, modesty was the norm, whether practiced on the interior or not…it was practiced outside…
    -Where are the children? How can we play more here?
    -Color palette…maybe you mentioned this…very consistent, beautifully bland..? One sometimes can’t rid a place of its memory…Maybe we shouldn’t…
    -What happens after you shave the lawn…do they have interesting haircuts?
    -Seems like de-domestication produces a ghost industrial town..intentional, de Chiricho..esque..
    -there is a similarity of aerial landscape of Levittown to farmland…

    A really thoughtful, insightful, skillful project. Beautiful drawings. Consistency.. Although digitally presented, would be nice to see this as a small book…

    Good Night..

  6. Velina Manolova

    Alejandra and Susana,
    This is a really fun project. I applaud your ability to transform the absurd and alienating surreal qualities of suburban landscapes into a playful and aesthetic surrealism. I’m curious about possibilities for social contact enabled by your surrealistic reprogramming of the suburban. Does it allow for something akin to urban “sidewalk culture” (interactions among strangers across class, race, and other dimensions of social being segregated in the suburbs)? -Velina

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