Making a Middle Landscape

Today’s suburban metropolitan development of single-family homes, shopping centers, corporate offices, and roadway systems constitutes what Peter Rowe calls a “middle landscape” between the city and the countryside. While others have written about this phenomenon from the point of view of sociology or cultural geography, Rowe looks closely at suburban America in terms of design and physical planning. He builds a case for a new way of seeing and building suburbia, complete with theoretical underpinnings and a basis for design.
The directions Rowe pursues are threefold: what has actually been built since 1920, as simple arrangements of land, buildings, and infrastructure have been transformed into complete multi-use centers; the mythic themes, metaphors, and attitudes driving the production of important cultural artifacts like the home and the workplace; and the definition of design principles for this new landscape.
Rowe looks first at how suburban expansion has altered the land, at the new spatio-cultural mosaic that has emerged and taken the place of the traditional city. He then examines four cultural artifacts-the house and its garden; the retail realm of roadside franchises and commercial strips, shopping villages and malls; the modern workplace of office parks and corporate estates; and the roadway that has become an essential link to all of these. Running throughout, he notes, is a story of technical planning and mass production where, paradoxically, rational excesses are often cloaked in romantic imagery. He concludes by proposing, and illustrating with numerous examples, a symbolic construct of “modern pastoralism” that juxtaposes the idea arcadian simplicity and value against the modern technical temperament.
PART ONE       Sub-Urbs in Rure 
1. Territorial Transformations 

          From City to Suburb



          A Tale of Two Towns



          From Suburb to Urban Metropolis


2. Changing Attitudes 

          Monolith or Diverse Social Entity?



          Wasteful Fragmentation or Pure Democracy?



          Private Commodity or Public Good?



          Monotonous Conformity or Individual Comfort?



          Placelessness or Place?



          A Metropolitan Spatial Synthesis




    PART TWO       Cultural Artifacts 
    3. Houses in Gardens 

            Housing Types



            Spatial Trends and Variations



            Form, Figure, and Future Function


    4. Retail Realms 

            Types of Retail Center



            Spatial, Formal, and Functional Trends



            Future Variations


    5. Corporate Estates 

            Types of Corporate Office



            Design Themes and Trends



            Society and the Corporate Image


    6. Highways and Byways 




            Subdivision Street Forms



            Spatial Developments and Variations

    PART THREE       Poetics and Making

    7. Myths and Masks 

            The Pastoral Perspective



            The Modern Technical Orientation



            Modern Pastoralism



            Historicism and Utopianism



            Critical Reality



            Symbolic Function



            Paradise and Pandemonium


    8. Places and Poetics 

                A Poetic of the Middle Landscape



                Poetic Design



                Poetic Expression



                Poetic Operations



              Making a Middle Landscape


    MIT Press, 1991