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Ticky Tacky Architecture // Emily Whitty


Digital image. Google Maps Street View. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.                                             

Abstract: Suburban developments have been popping up across America for years. Standardized processes of suburban design provide for cheaper, faster development. These standardized, mass produced housing projects affect the community’s sense of place. There are better solutions to providing and promoting place making areas that give back to the community while celebrating individuality.


Audience: Current and future homeowners, designers, contractors, and developers.

"Ticky Tacky Architecture"


There is this idea in architectural criticism that something is bad because it doesn’t fit in. [1] Why? This idea that once a solution is created for one architectural site it can then be mass multiplied is baffling. Especially in America, the place where people are encouraged to be different. We are a melting pot of culture and ideas and yet have become the blandest in the land. Architecture is an artistic expression. It causes emotions that combined with our personal experiences evoke feelings. If everything is identical does it not create a sense of blandness? The best example of this is seen in suburban areas.


There is one distinct problem with the current solutions to suburban projects today. We are filling our country with rows upon rows of houses with this outdated idea of “white picket fence” idealism. What good does it do to assign humans to their individualized spatially maximized boxes? How can one feel a sense of community, while sensing their existence in the massive world we share, when they stand in a place divided into parcels of land with nearly identical structures as far as the eye can see?

Digital image. Google Maps Street View. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.                                             

These are the issues I have grown up with. I have watched my home of North Kansas City develop around me with little regard for anything but profit from standardization and mass replication. I have always had trouble geolocating myself in the maze of suburbia. As a child I paid little attention to my surroundings unless they were interesting enough to catch my eye. These interesting moments were how I formed my sense of place. I knew that my friend lived in the house across from the home underneath its own yard with the dog that ran up and down the green lawn of the roof. [2] I knew her neighborhood was behind the “half house” [3] everyone chuckled at when they passed. I knew I lived across the street from the church with the green sign in what my parents loved to call the “smurf blue house”. [4] All these things aided my quest through a maze of nearly identical houses.

Digital image. Google Maps Street View. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.                                             

After my parents moved out of the smurf blue house and into a tan one I began to realize a problem. I had difficulty getting even my friends to locate me. Almost every single one pulls into my neighbor's driveway to pick me up. If only there was something to differentiate my house from the others for my friends. As I grew older I began to drive and attempt to locate my new friends’ houses. Long story short, I got lost, A LOT!  Driving through the winding streets of friends “neighborhoods” trying to locate the house I had been at just yesterday with nothing but a number to differentiate it from its counterparts was impossible. What made it even worse was the street numbers. I found myself calling my friend, embarrassed, asking “Okay so do you live on 20th Terrace, Street, or Drive? Oh, it’s Drive? Ok well I passed Terrace and went down Street.” There was another instance where I went in one side of a friends’ neighborhood, followed the winding streets looking for her house, and ended up back at the entrance again! My mistake, I must have missed her tan house with the driveway and the white car. It would be so great if I could just stay friends with people who lived in or near houses that could be located by saying turn left at the half house, and another left at the lawn roof house!


Since going off to architecture school I have escaped this particular issue. I have learned that character and quality define place. [6] I have studied the solutions many architects have reached to the issue of suburban developments. All the while knowing every time I go back home the suburban houses seem to have multiplied like rabbits, another copy of what already lies. Why can’t we celebrate individuality? It doesn’t have to be as drastic as the examples mentioned earlier. Honestly those were seen more as eyesores by the community, but why can’t we have more variation? I had given up on suburbia for good. My solution was to move away and let them replicate what Malvina Reynolds eloquently describes as “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same”. [7]


Until the day I returned home and I saw something new! A bright green house with a shed pitched roof! [7] I watched it go up over time anticipating the 6 or 7 replicas to begin popping up alongside it. They never did. Instead even more foreign architecturally designed housing solutions sprouted. This housing anomaly called itself “Urban North”. Through further investigation I discovered not only did this suburb dare to be aesthetically different but was also completely sustainable, and planned to give a portion of the development back to the community in the form of a park. There isn't a single person in the North Kansas City area that can’t tell you about the new modern green house. They all know exactly where it is. It has become a talking point among the community. It has given the Northland a newfound sense of place amongst the standardized duplexes, apartment complexes, and ticky tacky boxes. Urban North by DRAW Architecture has changed my mind about running away from the problems faced in the Northland and given me hope that change is possible.

[8]Digital image. DRAW Architecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

[9]Digital image. Urban North. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.                     

In order to help the community in the future it is important to understand what makes Urban North a success. Urban North’s website states, “Urban North offers 5 house plans specifically designed by Draw Architecture + Urban Design. Each homeowner will select one of these house plans and a custom elevation so no two homes in the subdivision will appear the same.” It is impossible to expect a total disregard for standardization methods in suburban areas. With the amount of housing needed in today’s world along with the budgets available it becomes extremely pricey to have a custom built home. Urban North has found a way to give customization back to the homeowner of an otherwise standardized design. Because of this we will be able to see the unique character and styles of individuals in the community come out. Starting from 5 different options that will later be modified also provides the subdivision a sense of connectedness as a whole. Each home will reflect some aspect of the originals because they started at the same point. Starting from this point also has a significant impact on the project's budget. The reason behind replicated copies in suburban developments has to do with money. Urban North has 23 homes to build on the property. It would be cheaper for them to build 23 replicas over and over than it is try to find 23 unique solutions. Architects get paid for their designs and designing a quality house takes time. By creating 5 points to take off from they have eliminated time spent creating something from nothing. Instead of painting from a blank canvas they have created 5 works of art that may be easily manipulated for customization. Each home in Urban North is getting a personalized design by an architect that takes less time to achieve. Time = money, meaning more can be allocated to other aspects of the project such as material selection, landscaping, etc. Character and quality define place. Urban North creates a neighborhood that reflects the characters of its individuals while providing the quality of an architecturally designed space.


Since the discovery of Urban North I have been waiting for a chance to finally make an impact on Kansas City suburban areas. The Design + Make Studio has provided a chance for me to do so. The same idea of mass replicated suburbia takes place around our site in the beloved Waldo Kansas City neighborhood. Our studio has been faced with the similar problem of what to do with a blank canvas of land right on the edge of shotgun house replicas.

Digital image. Google Maps Street View. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.                                             

Our answer stems off the same concept of Urban North. We aimed to reflect similar aspects of the homes around us that we felt represented the Waldo neighborhood. The most important characteristic of the surrounding houses we chose to respect and put our personal spin on is the front porch element. Giving the duplex this traditional aspect of Waldo helped our design relate to the community as a whole, while providing us opportunity to dare to be different. We are on a smaller scale, but have always anticipated being able to replicate our design in the future for other sites. I fear merely placing a replica on another site will diminish the design’s authenticity. Architecture is meant to be site specific and reflects the culture of an area as well as an individual’s style. Urban North has 6 categories for the owners to modify.



     Exterior Finishes: Windows, doors, garage doors, stonework, paint colors, roofing system


     Millwork & Cabinetry: Cabinets, counters, appliances, millwork, closet shelving, hardwoods


     Fixtures: Electrical, plumbing, fireplaces


     Flooring, Paint & Wall Covering: Carpet, tile, interior paint, stain colors


     Interior Hardware: Door hardware, bath hardware, glass, house numbers


     Exterior: Landscaping



But modifying just these aspects works only because they are in the same general area. For our project to be successfully replicated contextual factors would have to be reflected back into the design. Things like topography, cardinal orientation, climate and anything else an architect deems contextually relevant when beginning a project. This design should only be used as a template to iterate from. In the end, our design starts conversations, creates new areas for discovery, and provides a sense of place within the maze of suburbia. 7509 is my first contribution to the architectural world, and I am proud to say it embraces its individuality, celebrates creativity, and its guests will never question which door to knock on to find their friends.

Written by Emily Whitty



[1] Abstract: The Art of Design (Bjarke Ingels: Architecture). N.p., 2017. Web. Feb. 2017.

[6] The Ghastly Tragedy of the Suburbs. Perf. James Howard Kunstler. The Ghastly Tragedy of the Suburbs. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

[7] Reynolds, Malvina. Little Boxes. 1962. MP3.                        

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