*I originally posted this in r/architecture, but it didn’t generate a lot of discussion. That being said, I would be interested to hear the urban planning perspective on this.*
I live and work in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. After watching a few too many Not Just Bikes videos, my old love for urbanism and urban design has been reignited, and has gotten me to constantly be paying close attention to the suburban environment that I live and work in. In addition to all of the criticisms of suburbia from a standpoint of urban design and urban planning, as someone working in an architecture firm, my eye also turns to the buildings that I regularly experience and inhabit: suburban tract single-family homes, massive standardized apartment blocks, strip malls, big box stores, endless parking lots, fast food restaurants, gas stations, etc.
One thing I’ve really noticed paying close attention to the architecture of suburbia is just how standardized it all is. Neighborhoods are built by a handful of developers and the houses (or condos) within them all share a strong level of homogeneity enforced by HOAs. Every big box store is heavily branded to look exactly the same based on the design/branding requirements of each company. Every branch of a fast food restaurant is heavily standardized and looks indistinguishable from the others. Everything looks to have been designed by corporate developers. I don’t really see the work of individual architects or firms in the suburbs outside of interior remodels, backyard additions, and the extremely rare “original” building (which is jarring to see in such a standardized corporate environment). Even strip malls and office parks carry the same “standardized” feel to them, which I would normally think would allow for a little more creative freedom.
For how much architectural variety I find in both urban and rural environments, I find it interesting just how stifling and limited the scope of design is in suburbia, with its endlessly repeating landscape of sameness, especially when suburbia (at least in the United States) is billed as this ultimate bastion of freedom. There just doesn’t seem to be much room for creative freedom in design in a place like this, so much so that when I do see it in those rare instances, it is jarring.
What do you all think? Do you find projects in suburbia are heavily limiting for creative freedom or is your experience completely different? How could the architecture of suburbia be “elevated” from its current state of endlessly repeating sameness? Or are we stuck with it?