Ian Nicholson

Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2010

Capstone Advisor

David Salomon

Honors Reader

Jean-Francois Bedard

Capstone Major


Capstone College


Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories


Subject Categories

Architecture | Other Architecture | Urban, Community and Regional Planning


What can be accomplished without a car? In a city: everything. In a suburb: nothing. Without a car, one cannot escape the city. Without a city, one cannot escape the car. Neither city nor suburb is an ideal habitat. The city has no nature. The suburb has no culture. What’s good about the suburbs over the city? According to economics: houses.

The American dream has long been “one’s own house with a private yard” (Nelesson xi); an acre and a mule for every free citizen. But this dream has created distance; a nightmare of endless commutes and oil addiction. What if we could bridge that distance, without reverting to the “city?” What if the suburbs “are almost all right” (Venturi 6)? What should we move and where should we move it?

Perhaps instead of building our subdivisions of mass-customized dream homes in rapidly disappearing virgin forests, grasslands, farmlands, and other productive ecosystems, we could find a place that is already underused, ugly, obsolete, and vast. Sound familiar? How about surface parking lots?! By relocating the single-family house into the parking lot of the shopping center, (I contend that) a place is created that is neither city nor suburb: it is both city and suburb; a place that is neither sprawling nor dense: it is sprawling and dense. This type will neither occupy nor preserve the conspicuous space of the consumerist suburb; it will both occupy and preserve it. Just as the “motorized city that tries to overcome distance... tries to make distance at the same time” (Lerup 40) this new place will be both space and object, figure and field, community and privacy. Is it a parking lot or is it a suburban neighborhood? Both. And neither. Where are the lines drawn between public and private? They are not drawn, but inferred. This type is meant to be both ubiquitous and pliable, both subtle and overbearing; just like the separate types that it is consuming (house and big box). This place shall remain nameless, open-ended, and subject to interpretation, just like the environment it is to inhabit (the city outside the city). This place is not meant to replace, but to exist in parallel and serve as an alternative to the single-use zoned suburb, the traditional city, the modern downtown, and whatever other settlement patterns the future holds. With this thesis, I mean simply to add another item to the menu of urban conditions from which the discerning consumer of space and habitat will choose his preferred built environment. Hopefully, if this kind of scheme were realized in the real world, it would help to slow suburban sprawl and positively impact the built environment and the natural environment that supports it. However, this thesis is concerned explicitly with the ability of this strategy to be an architecturally viable alternative to more straightforward scheme of simple re-urbanization, as the New Urbanists would propose. Consumerism is not being questioned here. Automobility is not being questioned here. I simply mean to argue that the vast amounts of space wasted by suburban parking lots could be used as a viable alternative site to the virgin wilderness or farmland, and that those parking lots have inherent architectural qualities that are worth investigating.

Nelessen, Anton C. Visions for a New American Dream. Chicago: American Planning Association, 1994. xi.

New Urbanism: Peter Calthorpe vs. Lars Lerup. Ed. Robert Fishman. New York: Arts Press, 2005. 40. (quoting Lars Lerup)

Venturi, Robert, et. al. Learning from Las Vegas. Revised Edition. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977. 6.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
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