By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When architects Sam Dufaux and Michael Etzel were tasked by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) with re-envisioning Keizer Station, they came up with a scathing indictment of Keizer as it currently exists: bedroom community, not very diverse, aging, little local dynamic.
Whether or not residents agree with that assessment is beside the point because the re-envisioning is less about the specifics of the Keizer Station and more about what it means to alter the previous conceptions of the American Dream. Keizer Station is one of five sites around the country selected for MoMA’s Foreclosed project that sets back the clock to the height of the Great Recession in 2008 and asks artists, in this case, a braintrust of architects, economists, ecologists, civil engineers, structural engineers and members of the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, how they would challenge the traditional takes on the American Dream at a time when its’ underpinning ideas became unstable. The resulting exhibit will open in January 2012 in MoMA’s New York City gallery.
“The crisis is financial, but it’s also a crisis of us not being able to reimagine what things could be like,” said Dufaux, an associate with New York City’s WORK Architecture Company, commissioned with the project.
As the barriers to entry into the American Dream – interpreted as a house in the suburbs – rise, the Foreclosed project tackles the question of “what if” we could dream a bit differently. The suburb was built on the notion of the nuclear family that lived and worked within a relatively small geographic area, but, in the past 50 years, as ring upon ring of suburb spirals out into all the space zoning codes permit, residents of the suburbs are increasingly remote from the places where they work.
“The drive everywhere for cheaper and cheaper things mentality is unsustainable. It’s getting more crowded and a huge portion of the income goes into transportation,” Dufaux said.
“The American Dream is almost a mythology and you have to expose what’s going on within it and latch onto those things and build new things around it,” Etzel added. Etzel is an New York-based architect supplying boots-on-the-ground knowledge, a result of having lived in Keizer until 1992.
If their take seems different that is the point.
“It’s gotta be a little bit radical and slice through the American Dream a little bit,” Etzel said.
Their ideas for a new neighborhood in the place of the existing Keizer Station retail development push the boundaries of contemporary American architecture, while preserving or reinstating elements of Keizer’s history. One of the biggest changes included in their reimagining would be to refill Labish Lake, which once straddled what is now Interstate 5, and resurrect acres of oak savanna. The lake was drained in the 1930s to make way for onion farming.
“The way we think about land is skewed, we think of value in terms of size and there’s a quality of land that goes way beyond what is traditionally taken into account,” Dufaux said. “And everyone we’ve talked to chooses to live here because of the natural beauty. So, when we started the project, we decided we wanted to have the city at the front door and the country at the back door.”
About midway through the project, the Keizer site design team’s current plan would call for four extensions of current Keizer subdivisions into the Keizer Station acreage comprised of between three and six city blocks. The focus is on dense diversity of housing types, sometimes with multistory housing stacked on more multistory housing, and communal green space rather than private yards. It would house the projected growth of Keizer through 2030, or about 13,000 additional people.
“We want to create a gradient from the more private single house to a more communal type of housing,” Dufaux said.
Taking a cue from Keizer’s 438 existing cul de sacs, each of the four neighborhood extensions would end in a large communal space such as a school or church. Other spaces are dedicated to playing fields.
“Cul de sacs are fun when it becomes a public space, almost like a small town square,” Etzel said.
Each block would also include smaller entertainment, retail and business spaces than exist in in the current Keizer Station. The design includes sustainability aspects intended to cut down on waste and create jobs.
“Using waste within the community creates really close, high-paying infrastructure jobs that closes the loop in a different way,” Etzel said.
Each space is designed to attract a diversity of residents, and community programming arises from the design of the neighborhood itself, which addresses some of those aforementioned not-so-enticing traits of the current Keizer community.
“If you design public spaces for a specific reason, instead of just an open green space, you’ll attract a diverse population,” Eztel said.
While no one involved in the project expects Keizer Station to be razed and rebuilt as a Eurostyle community of the future, the project is meant to be more of a conversation-starter and for designers and architects to borrow ideas for use in other places.
“We want it to resonate with people and start them thinking about what’s possible. It’s something that could really be done. Our hope is we’ve made simple and with a clarity to it that they say, ‘why not?’” Dufaux said.