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Ideas of living

This is an issue about how domestic space organizes our surroundings and habits and values and bodies. It is also about convention: how norms became norms, and how design might gently or violently pull them apart to propose new ways of relating to ourselves and each other in our most intimate settings. It offers a few terms for discussing what can happen when architectural ideas come home.

Article 6 of 16

Sun City

Photographs by Stephen Smith

In 1960, Del E. Webb Corporation developed Sun City, the first active-adult retirement community in America, on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. The city enforces particular admission restrictions: children under nineteen may only visit a maximum of ninety days, and each housing unit must be inhabited by at least one person fifty-five or older. Regardless of status as owner or renter, all residents must provide documentation of their compliance with the community’s age restrictions. Nevertheless, during Sun City’s inaugural year 1,250 homes were sold, mainly pre-established models. Prices and sizes were modest, providing affordable homes in a safe environment with plenty of recreational amenities. By 1978, twenty model homes—the Encore Series— featuring energy-efficient packages became available. In an effort to avoid a “cookie-cutter” appearance, models were updated every three to four years, and the sales department ensured no identical houses were built side by side. Thus each residence offered three options for exterior elevations, creating the possibility for neighbouring homes with identical floor plans but dissimilar exteriors.

Stephen Smith visited Sun City in 1981 and 1982; with a certain dryness, his photographs document the ways that residents have customized houses and landscape in the complex.

A few of Smith’s photographs of Sun City were shown in our 2011 exhibition Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture. The text above is adapted from the accompanying publication.

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