Little boxes on the hillside: The tract housing of the American landscape

The tract home is rapidly becoming the dominant American residential form, with deep cultural, social, and economic implications. The tract-home community rises up seemingly overnight on the overgrown field we played on as children. Its row of identical houses stares at us unflinchingly from the ridges of hills by the interstate. The triangular flags announcing its opening direct us to the developer's office and model homes A, B, C, and D. The community takes its name from the English countryside, or Italian villa life, or the Spanish-Mexican ranch. If you earn an uppermost-middle class income, you'll probably be looking at the largest homes, with architectural references to Mediterranean leisure, 3-car garages, sweeping cul-de-sacs, and plenty of palm trees. If you earn merely a comfortable living, you may choose from the plainer 2-car garage homes, lower on the hill or further inland, with pleasant though nondescript shrubbery. Whatever your income (as long as you are roughly middle class), there is a community that has been built with your means and preferences in mind.

I propose to spend the summer of 2002 photographing in a wide range or such tract-home communities, in particular those built in the past decade, and drawing inspiration from New Topographics photographers such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz. I will begin in San Diego County, where I grew up and, I believe, an exemplary location for this project, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. Then I will move outward to Phoenix, Denver, and other metropolitan regions that have experienced explosive growth in recent years. I will travel by car to better understand the connections of these communities to their regions and to see if my instincts—that these communities are prototypes diffusing over the entire nation—are correct. The project will culminate in an exhibition of 16x20 or larger color photographs, an accompanying booklet, and a Web site.