New York-based architect John Szot believes there is a better way to build suburbia. While much of the architectural community has ceded the suburbs to home builders and tract home developers, Szot has a plan to take back some agency for designers. In his show, Mass Market Alternatives, he outlines how mass production and digital algorithms can be used to produce healthy and architecturally diverse suburbs.

Currently on view at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects (AIADO) in collaboration with MAS Context, Mass Market Alternatives shows how the American home building system could be subverted to produce nearly endlessly diverse housing plans. Yet Szot’s motivations for the project are greater than just formal or programmatic; he believes the state of architecture in the suburbs is fundamentally detrimental to the country – that the repetitive homogeneity of suburban housing leads to political and social conformity.

“For better or worse, suburbia has provided us with an extraordinary example of how industrialization and economics shape cultural values through architecture and urban planning,” Szot explained to The Architect’s Newspaper. “Large collections of similar homes ultimately become political blocs, making a suburban subdivision a powerful means for testing the relationship between aesthetics and politics at a civic scale.”

Leveraging the already common practice of using algorithms to economize the design and construction process, Szot has developed a system which can be used to produce floor plans and overall style. From there, the hand of a human designer can adjust accordingly. Through models, videos, and drawings, Szot shows the possibilities of the system in action.

“The call for diversity is pretty benign in and of itself and could be handled in any number of ways, but we’re proposing to do it via a  serialist exercise that turns the whole effort into a running experiment in domesticity. We were inspired by the audacity of current practices to choose variety over coherence when it comes to the looks of the homes,” added Szot.

Mass Market Alternatives is on show at the AIADO gallery located on the 12th floor of the Louis Sullivan-designed Sullivan Center at 33 South State Street, Chicago, through October 2. Along with the exhibition, which has also been shown in Boston, Szot will be giving a public talk on September 26 at SAIC.


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