Making a mark: Personal customization in suburban housing

Monica K. Groele
Master's Thesis | Spring 2013

Since the end of the Second World War, the dominant form of housing in the United States has been the single-family detached dwelling in the suburbs. Such communities have been barraged by criticism for being aesthetically ho- mogeneous and reinforcing of “traditional” family roles, behaviors, and values. Despite outside criticism, however, many residents describe positive experiences of living in these communities. Previous studies have found that the homogeneity and simplicity of the houses allows the residents to make improvements and customizations that address their own living styles, needs, and preferences.

Building upon Jungian psychology and American studies theories, and using qualitative and quantitative methods, this thesis examines two Buffalo-area neighborhoods. The thesis explores the following questions:

– Who lives in standardized communities, why are they living there, and what are their perceptions of the neighborhoods they live in?

– How are standardized residential environments changed to accommodate varied and changing family structures, needs, and preferences?

– What aspects contribute to or constrain the ability to customize a dwelling?

Information gathered from archival research, photographic analysis, and surveys are used to identify implications and potentials for residential designs that encourage customization and self-expression for a wide variety of user groups. The results of this research are meant to be the beginning of the reinsertion of architects into a previously neglected realm, to fill the role of facilitator of personal customization in housing.

Thesis Committee: Korydon Smith & Sue Weidemann