Andrea Vesentini


On his book Indoor America: The Interior Landscape of Postwar Suburbia

Cover Interview of January 09, 2019

In a nutshell

There is no question that suburbs are one of the defining features of the U.S. urban landscape, as well as the place where most Americans have spent their lives since the end of World War II. The interiors of cars, single-family houses and shopping malls are the everyday environment inhabited by the majority of the population. Indoor America looks at these all-too-familiar spaces through a novel point of view that twists the cliché of lawns and backyards to chronicle how suburbia grew into a landscape of interconnected interiors. As such, it is a cultural history that takes as its primary focus the postwar era, roughly from 1945 to 1969, a time that coincides with the apex of the suburban exodus.

Although there is a great number of books on the history of suburbanization, none has focused on the predominant role that interior spaces play in the daily life of residents, and how this state of things came to be. The rise of suburbia since the end of the war is thus retold by placing the pursuit of interiors at its center, exploring how all such spaces, from automobiles to indoor shopping centers, functioned as escape capsules affording a higher degree of segregation and insulation from the perceived threats of urban life. Needless to say, the fears that drove people out of the city and into the protective network of suburban interiors often stemmed from the inability to deal with an increasingly racially mixed city, the tensions that this diversity entailed, and the profound social changes of those decades.

In the book, interiors are understood in the broadest possible sense: the domestic space of single-family houses, of course, but also cars, shopping malls, with detours into the fallout-shelter craze of the nuclear age, air conditioning, and plans for completely enclosed cities in the late 1960s. The narrative is structured as a journey across all such defensive shells. It starts from the increasing popularity of the closed-body car in the 1920s (when private transportation became the norm) and ends on the macro-interiors of indoor city proposals, such as the unbuilt Minnesota Experimental City project, Walt Disney’s EPCOT, and Paolo Soleri’s Arcologies.