chapter  11
24 Pages

The Imprint of the Owner-Builder on American Suburbs

ByRichard Harris

Builders are directly responsible for most of what we see in cities, but we know little about their distinct effect on the landscape. We often assume that they are mere agents, expressing a culture or perhaps the consumer’s sovereignty and that it is land developers who matter, whether because they define street layouts and lot sizes or because they sometimes regulate what may be built. Only a few writers have considered the builders who translate such definings and regulations into a built environment. These writers have concentrated on the professionals who build for the anonymous buyer (Dyos 1961; Warner 1962; Whitehand and Carr 2001). In Britain this makes sense: speculative builders have long dominated the market for new homes. The same has not been as true in most other parts of the world. In North America until recently, general contractors and rank amateurs accounted for a good deal of house building, especially around smaller and medium-sized centers. Focusing on the amateur owner-builders, this chapter analyses their changing imprint on the American suburban scene from the 1920s to the late 1950s.