George E. Brown

We asked visionary architects, designers, and cultural philosophers to predict how the downturn may transform housing. Among the questions we asked were these: How do you think what's going on in the housing market now will affect the future of the house and housing? Will it change the way we design, develop, and deliver houses? What will our new priorities for housing become? What they told us follows in the text below and in video form:

"The world is becoming both aesthetically conscious and information savvy. In this digital age, people want to be stimulated through their physical environment. If the virtual world is flexible, personalized, and complex, why not the physical world? I see our domestic environment becoming more casual, technological, and engaging, resulting in a sensuality that is minimalist but organic. Not a house as a machine, as Le Corbusier proclaimed, but a house that marries the artificial and natural, where beauty and well-being are priorities.

I believe that 'local' no longer exists. The world is shrinking, and thinking globally is the only way to perceive culture unobstructed by political, social, historical, and nepotistic issues. Local thinking is the nemesis of free spirit and real creative thought in our new globalization.


  Here are 10 ways to change the home:

  1. Create large white spaces with accents of strong, positive colors.
  2. Knock down walls that aren't structural and open up spaces.
  3. Buy less but better furniture.
  4. Use materials that are easy to clean and that age well. Plastic floors (laminates, vinyl sheeting, or artificial rubber) are lightweight, inexpensive, and wear well.
  5. Don't be a pack rat: Recycle newspapers and magazines as soon as you're done reading them. Better yet, read them online.
  6. Use color to express yourself. Don't be afraid of that bright orange chair. Paint your wall lime green. Be brave when it comes to carpets, countertops, and tables. Color is beautiful.
  7. Use biodegradable and natural cleaning products.
  8. When you buy something for your home, get rid of something else. Seek balance.
  9. Make your space reconfigurable.
  10. Embrace technology."

—Karim Rashid, Karim Rashid Inc., New York City

"The housing market recession offers everyone involved in construction the chance to take a step back and wonder whether it's either financially wise or, indeed, architecturally clever to continue to see housing merely as a commodity to grow rich on. I'm a great believer in free markets and in the making of money, but I sincerely believe that in most cases, the commercial world cannot deliver housing of the necessary quality within the punishing demands of the standard financial calculation. There's a huge difference between what the public needs (a house that will look beautiful and function well for 50 years) and what the markets want (a commodity that can be traded in a year or two, just before the plastified walls start to buckle and the fake Doric column starts to peel). So it's the job of some kind of not-for-profit agency to step in and guarantee the quality of architecture and housing. The difference between good and bad architecture is often 5 percent—a 5 percent that the free market can't provide. We should find a way around this hurdle, for a country can't be great and compromised at an architectural level.

Alain de Botton  Architectural Critic and Writer  London
Credit: Vincent Starr

Alain de Botton
Architectural Critic and Writer

Although the market looks very dire now, it offers a chance to break out of the free-market orthodoxy that hasn't produced money for anyone and produced terrible architecture, for the most part. The real indictment of the current arrangement is that housing has failed even as a piece of free-market economics—its failure as architecture is all too obvious. Having been lectured and patronized by developers for the last decade, designers can now say, 'And you guys didn't even know how to make money.'

I hope we will now design houses that are:

a) not seen as financial vehicles;
b) environmentally sound; and
c) beautiful. We won't make money from housing, but hopefully we will:

a) not lose too much money, either, in a downturn;
b) save the planet; and
c) create a place of beauty worth any amount of money (just ask people who live in central Paris)." —Alain de Botton, architectural critic and writer, London

"My pessimistic view is that it won't change anything. The contradiction here is that socially and economically, the American dream of everyone owning property is still so much a part of the way we think. Once the industry rights itself, it will initially be tougher to get financing, but I think after that we'll slip back into the same kind of routine.

Yet, at the moment we're in an interesting position. With the federal government's huge investment in banks and Fannie Mae, for the first time we have an opportunity to affect housing policy. We could begin to think about how we affect mortgages and insurance and try to make people smarter about the kinds of housing they build. I spent almost 20 years in Canada before coming back to the United States, and a lot of the things we could do in housing came about because of strong government intervention in land banking and the way you can borrow money. That led to producing more low-income housing than we can produce here.

Barton Myers, FAIA  Barton Myers Associates  Los Angeles
Credit: Suzanne Myers

Barton Myers, FAIA
Barton Myers Associates
Los Angeles

I'm idealistic enough to think that with the right administration and the right people thinking about housing, we could have a revolution. We tend to know more than we [think we] do, and now is the time to mobilize the energy of the brightest people at think tanks and universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Berkeley, and UCLA. We should encourage infill in cities and small towns, cluster housing instead of sprawl, and links to transportation lines. If we thought about how to build in a collective way, we could have a significant impact not only on how America looks but in the kind of energy we use."

—Barton Myers, FAIA, Barton Myers Associates, Los Angeles

James van Sweden, FASLA  Oehme, van Sweden & Associates  Washington, D.C.
Credit: Roger Foley

James van Sweden, FASLA
Oehme, van Sweden & Associates
Washington, D.C.

"With this real estate situation, the first thing to go is the garden, since the mortgage crisis is putting people in apartments. Look at the pictures of houses in foreclosure; none of them have gardens. Americans don't like to go outside anyway. Even my clients who have beautiful gardens are afraid there might be a bug, or it's too hot or too cold. People will certainly downsize to afford the mortgage. They won't build these lavish kitchens they never cook in. They don't even make coffee in their kitchens. I've had many clients who, when I visited them in the mornings, were on their way to Starbucks."

— James van Sweden, FASLA, Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, Washington, D.C.