America by Design

Kostof begins his treatise on American design and planning by examining the American house, then enlarges his scope to include ever more public and magnificent structures until, in his final chapter, he examines the largest objects of all: bridges, towers, tunnels, and freeways. He discusses each in terms of how its various forms have either harmonized with or clashed with natural topography. From the simplest home in Colonial America to the most complicated suspension bridge, amateur and professional designers have shaped a continent which, in the earliest days of European exploration, was considered little more than a terrible, hostile wasteland, too wild and pestilential ever to conquer. Yet because of the inventiveness, audacity, courage, and persistence of American settlers, the terrifying wilderness was tamed relatively quickly by an orderly grid of fields and farms as well as of city streets created by the straight lines of surveyors.

The democratic vision giving rise to the regular grid pattern of Western farms found another outlet in such later developments as the planned suburbs of the twentieth century. Commuter suburbs having nearly identical houses on similarly sized plots were found in places such as New York’s Levittown development on Long Island, where people of average means could have their own home on their own tiny bit of land, allowing them the dignity of being landowners in a nation fanatically devoted to owning property. The...

(The entire section is 524 words.)