Design Actually Within Reach

Can a good, cheap house be built? asks Karrie Jacobs.

Can a good, cheap house be built? asks Karrie Jacobs

When I set out on a road trip to find the perfect $100,000 house in July 2003, the median American home price was $168,000. By July 2005, it had soared to $206,000. In late 2005 it had risen to $220,000. And those median prices sound like bargains. In New York City, the median is $750,000, and the average selling price broke a million dollars in 2004 and kept heading upward. When I tell people at cocktail parties that I'm searching America for the perfect $100,000 house, they generally think that I've left a zero off. But then, when they're done making fun of me, they ask with undisguised longing, "Well, did you find it? Where is it?"The answer is yes; I found several. But this trip wasn't a reality TV show, with a winner rewarded in a stagey ceremony in which I hand out long-stemmed roses. Rather, it was my attempt to answer a question: Why is it that the typical American house can be cheap or it can be good but it can almost never be both?\n\n\n
When I tell people that I'm searching America for the perfect $100,000 house, they generally think that I've left a zero off.
Custom homes, the kind of architect-designed palaces in the pages of magazines, almost always go for upwards of half a million dollars-and often much more. It occurred to me that there is no challenge in building an aesthetically perfect palace if you could spend a million dollars on it. The trick is getting results for a tenth of that price.Certainly commercial homebuilders-the companies that routinely bulldoze open desert and plop down a brand new subdivision of Spanish or Colonial or Tudor homes-know how to build cheap. One of their houses might, depending on the location, easily go for $100,000 or less. A handful of homebuilders are even dabbling in modernism by building subdivision houses they call "lofts." But mostly that means they're adding "Modernist" to their laundry list of historical styles for sale. And style isn't the issue-not for me, anyway.The modernism that I love, that I care about, isn't a historical movement that peaked in the mid-twentieth century and is currently enjoying a major revival, but is rather a frame of mind. It's a way of thinking that involves an ongoing investigation of methods and materials. It's a design philosophy that values comfort but doesn't confuse it with excess. It's a strategy that views the most important elements of design as space, daylight, and the surfaces with which we routinely come into contact.Occasionally, when I have expressed my views about housing, I've been accused of being Marxist or socialist, which is strange because I think what I'm being is American. The amalgam of innovation and egalitarianism that I admire is-or used to be-an essential part of the fabric of this nation. Recently I was following a team of architects and planners who were helping to rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. One of them, a Rhode Island-based planner named Bill Dennis said to a gathering of small-town officials and residents, "Remember, the people who built this country weren't rich, yet they built great towns." I wanted to stand up and cheer.Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Perfect $100,000 House: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home, by Karrie Jacobs. Copyright © Karrie Jacobs, 2006.
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less