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Post-War Middle-Class Housing

Models, Construction and Change

Edited By Gaia Caramellino and Federico Zanfi

Post-war middle-class housing played a key role in constructing and transforming the cities of Europe and America, deeply impacting today’s urban landscape. And yet, this stock has been underrepresented in a literature mostly focused on public housing and the work of a few master architects.
This book is the first attempt to explore such housing from an international perspective. It provides a comparative insight into the processes of construction, occupation and transformation of residential architecture built for the middle-classes in 12 different countries between the 1950s and 1970s. It investigates the role of models, actors and policies that shaped the middle-class city, tracing geographies, chronologies and forms of development that often cross national frontiers.
This study is particularly relevant today within the context of «fragilization» which affects the middle-classes, challenging, as it does, the urban role played by this residential heritage in the light of technological obsolescence, trends in patterns of homeownership, as well as social and generational changes.
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Afterword: Getting our hands into the flesh of the contemporary city


← 368 | 369 →


(Politecnico di Milano)


Getting our Hands into the Flesh of the Contemporary City

Imagine that we create a collage of all the residential spaces examined in the essays contained in this volume1. Then imagine that we observe them as parts of a single inhabitable environment, even though they come from various geographical areas. What we would discover would be a number of recurrent features. Repeated patterns would emerge of multi-storey condominiums, apartment blocks, semi-detached or detached houses. Then, as we zoom in, sequences of atriums, shops at street-level, shared courtyards, car parks, private gardens, facades scarred by loggias and balconies, fences and gates. The collage would represent a sample of the landscape that forms the horizon of our daily lives, a sample of urban matter that constitutes the majority share of the existing housing stock, what we might rightfully call the “flesh” of the contemporary city2.

I would now like to argue in favour of transformation. If we focus on the ordinariness of the buildings, on their fragmentation into private units, on the heterogeneity of grain in the built fabric, we begin to understand that this “flesh” has specific features. In particular, its inertia to physical transformation distinguishes it from other residential patterns in today’s European and American cities (such as the blocks in the historic city centres under preservation orders or the large-scale, ← 369 | 370 → publicly owned unitary grands ensembles). It thus...

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