Hollywood churns out movies scorning life in the suburbs as grim and stifling. “Revolutionary Road” is just the latest.
But much of the world — including the world’s most populous nation, which has genuine revolutionary roads paved with blood — thinks suburbs are great.
So much so, they’re hiring US architects to design them.
An emerging affluent class abroad is drawn to suburbs with U.S. names that mimic the American ideal â€” down to the master bathroom and tree-lined sidewalk.
A 2006 survey of American Institute of Architects members shows that large architecture firms with more than 100 employees reported billings from international work doubled in four years. Meanwhile, billings in the U.S. this year dropped to the lowest point in the 12 years the survey has been conducted.
While there’s no hard data, more American-made windows, roofing systems, furnaces and other specialized materials are being shipped overseas because projects designed by Americans are built to U.S. construction standards, said Jim Haughey, an economist with Reed Construction Data, which tracks the construction industry.
“The English concept of a man’s home is his castle is true in most parts of Asia, the Mideast and Eastern Europe,” said Jeff Rossely, a Bahrain-based developer of shopping malls, resorts and residential communities in the Middle East. “If you look at how countries are moving up the socio-economic ladder, some of the things they all want is a car, a house, a nice view and air conditioning.”
The trend started during the early 1990s U.S. housing downturn and has intensified in recent years. Firms that ventured abroad since that time say doing so has helped them weather economic slowdowns in certain markets.
It has also created opportunities to design on a grander and more creative scale. At times, architects are creating huge master-planned communities encompassing a mix of single-family homes with high rises, parks and shopping centers. Feola’s firm is designing a shopping and entertainment complex for New Cairo, a metropolis built from scratch for roughly 200,000 residents in Egypt. The idea is to avoid some of the mistakes of the past and create a mixed-use environment where people rely less on their car to get to shops and services.
American firms are behind an eco-friendly island connected to Shanghai by rail, and a new township in northern Indian loaded with luxury villas, apartments, shops, parks and schools.
Curiously, some of the developments overseas look and sound a lot like California suburbs marketed to affluent customers who have spent time living in the U.S. or attracted to an American suburban lifestyle.