Andrea Vesentini


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

Cover Interview of January 09, 2019

A close-up

To those who do not have the time to peruse the book from cover to cover, I would recommend reading chapter five, which looks at windows and glass architecture in suburbia. Picture windows have become a trope of suburban life in film and literary narratives. This is possibly because they foreground so many of the tensions elsewhere disguised in suburban design. The separation between inside and outside and the controlled penetration of the outer world into the domestic interior is one such example. Because of unique design strategies, suburban architecture allowed residents to incorporate only those elements of the outside world that did not endanger the family’s privacy, such as a constructed image of nature that excluded a vision of the street, and thus of public life.

The chapter also gives a sense of the peculiar methodology used to write about suburban interiors as a cultural landscape. Transparency in architecture is addressed through the analysis of actual buildings, such as Richard Neutra’s modernist houses and Cliff May’s ranches in Los Angeles, but also through imaginary spaces. There is one section examining the role of windows in urban and suburban sitcom narratives like I Love Lucy and The Goldbergs, and another on the depiction of picture windows in Douglas Sirk’s film All That Heaven Allows.

The first chapter on the rise of the car in the interwar years, a phenomenon that paved the ground for postwar suburban sprawl, is another part that should not be missed in order to understand the driving forces behind suburbanization. The mass relocation of Americans further and further away from the center of cities has often been referred to as “white flight” by many historians and commentators. This term is derived from the fact that most of those who left the city for suburbia were white Americans at a time when the number of African Americans moving into the metropolitan core was on the rise. There is no doubt about the segregationist motives behind the growth of suburbs, but segregation was pursued in several ways besides taking up residence in a newly built subdivision. The very infrastructure of automobile transportation, which is the connecting tissue of the sprawling American city, was devised as a public space that individuals could share without coming into contact with each other thanks to the car’s protective interior, a form of microsurgical segregation.