In 1939, the Federal Housing Administration declined to insure a mortgage for one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses in East Lansing, Michigan. The house's low ceilings and open interior spaces were considered too risky an investment.
The speculative value of the real estate, not the design requested by its clients, determined the project's fate. Impassioned correspondence between architect, client, and bureaucrats; an annotated floor plan; and a local newspaper clipping are the tangible evidence of this short, but telling episode in the history of architecture and real estate.
House Housing, on view at the Center for Architecture from July 12, offers a sampling of this history through thirty-six episodes, spanning from the early twentieth century into the present. Seemingly ordinary artifacts generated by governments, industries, institutions, and individuals support these short stories, revealing the ways design, policy, finance, and politics interconnect.
As indicated by the project's title, this multi-media history is untimely in two respects. First, it returns us to financial matters widely discussed in the aftermath of the 2008 foreclosure crisis-issues that are only now re-emerging but which have yet to take hold in professional architectural circles. Second, its non-linear timeline reveals surprising repetitions of debates and actions in the built environment that surrounds us. History really does repeat itself, albeit differently each time, and House Housing shows concretely the many ways in which architecture is never neutral in the making and breaking of these cycles.