Professor Murray Fraser on the Anglo-American Suburb

January 9, 2007

Just to give a brief synopsis of a lecture given to the AAS students by Professor Murray Fraser of Wesminster University which was wide in scope and rich in detail. The main thrust of his argument was that the ‘Anglo-American’ suburb is a distinctive entity which can only be understood within a historical framework of close interchange between the two countries. The Garden City, for example, he saw as an originally American concept, taken up by Howard and his followers and then resold to America, most recently as the New (sub)Urbanism.

Crucial to this narrative is the post-war exodus of European architects to the United States as the country in which their modernist vision was most likely to be realised. This vision was then exported back across the Atlantic in the form of staple features of suburban life such as big fridge-freezers, large cars and supermarkets. ‘How American are we?’ as an early edition of the Sunday Times colour supplement (early 1960s) put it, in response to the rise of American style conspicuous-consumption in the UK.

Arguing from a similar perspective as Dr Mark Clapson, also of Westminster, Murray sees the suburb as an essentially progressive environment in which the both consumption and production occur within a modern, techonology rich and environmentally attractive (if not necessarily sustainable) setting in which individual freedom is paramount. The range of suburban types suggest that it is less helpful to speak of ‘city’ and ‘suburb’ than of ‘patterns of strong and weak urbanism’. Professor Fraser suggested (provocatively) that the shopping mall was the major modernist contribution to architecture. With regard to Successful Suburban Town Centres, it is clear that he would advocate a ‘realist’ rather than ‘idealist’ approach to suburban living as a pattern of living at the forefront of social change that can only be planned ‘so far’.

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One Response to “Professor Murray Fraser on the Anglo-American Suburb”

  1. liora4 Says:

    Good summary. I would add that Fraser’s proposal regarding “patterns of strong and weak ties” helps explain why it is so difficult to come up with a concrete definition of what is a suburb – it is a contiuum rather than a state.

    Also his talk helped support our working hypothesis that the suburb is more than an area of residential land use – and always has been. He had a variety of angles on this, in particular:

    The Suburb as as place of production;
    The Suburb as a place of information flows;
    The Suburb as a place of consumption.


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