Chicago Magazine — “Jeanne Gang Breaks Open the Bungalow to Save Cicero’s Housing”

February 28, 2012

“What Gang took from Cicero is that bungalows, which have so long represented nuclear family units, are already being turned into communal neighborhood space even with the barriers their design entails. For Studio Gang, the next step was obvious:

Team members asked, ‘What if the bungalow could be taken apart and sorted into separate pieces—bedroom, kitchen, lawns—and reassembled as needed?’ Their response is the Recombinant House, which remains affordable because people may buy only the parts they need and add or subtract spaces as families grow, shrink, or change.

In short, it’s an attempt to combine the best aspects of apartment and condo living (affordability, financial flexibility) and private homes (flexibility of use), a clever means of addressing the central complaint of the vertical-neighborhood concept.

Gang and her team (which included artist and urban planner Theaster Gates) are smart to identify the architectural aspect of the housing crisis and address it with her architectural idea. But it’s still more of a financial problem than a physical one, and Gang’s Recombinant House would require a different approach to the financing of the space. It’s closest in physical nature to a condo, and that’s what Gang and Lindsay’s financial scheme resembles as well:

One long-term solution would be a type of co-op in which residents buy and sell shares according to their changing needs and circumstances. Unlike traditional co-ops, residents could purchase shares corresponding only to the units they occupy, not the land beneath, which remains in the hands of a ‘community land trust.’ Such a structure would keep housing costs down while limiting residents’ exposure to the market. It would also provide a backstop for struggling homeowners, since the trust would have the legal right to step in and assist residents in the event of foreclosure.”

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