The landscape has gone from raw, or lightly used by random buildings, to a flattened plate upon which these boxes sit as though dropped off by the world’s largest UPS truck. How did this happen?

Buildings change. Architects (like me) would like to think we are the change agents in how buildings evolve. Sadly for our collective hubris, architects respond more than we innovate.

Worse yet, architects must respond to forces that have nothing to do with aesthetics, but end up being huge engines of creation. Changes in our demographics, technological capabilities, financial resources pervasively shape the buildings we see around us. In the Boom/Bust economy of construction, waves of opportunity make for copy-cat development, and in Connecticut our small, dense world has served as a perfect platform to expose distinct epochs of building types that have come, gone and change.

Before World War II, there were simply cities, farms and factories. No suburban sprawl, no highways, save the Park of Merritt — a road built not so much for mass transit as elite recreation. When all those GIs came home, and all those farms finally, fully failed and Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the beauty of the automobile life, massive suburbia was seeded by I-95 and I-91 in the form of quarter-acre-lot, middle-class residences, mostly one story, and following the basic gable-roofed cape or ranch. Eventually, these homes and their sites grew, but the single home on its own plot of dirt was the dominant paradigm for two generations.

Then, in the 1970s, federal tax law allowed lucrative investment for condominium construction. More fallow fields sprouted larger two-story rows of buildings, making bedroom communities dense. Until another tax law, this time by Ronald Reagan who ended the financial benefit of investing in these freight-train pile-ups of common-wall townhouses.

In the decade of the raging exuberance of the late 20th/early 21st century real estate boom, baby boomers matured to think their homes could have an infinitely ascending value, which made for another bubble that blew dozens of thousands of ever-inflating McMansions into the fields all around Connecticut’s suburban juggernaut. Until 2008.

Even the insanity of greed and ego could no longer avoid the reality of real value, so a single building type, the American single-family home, wrecked the entire world’s economy as millions of money-making delusions were inevitably unsustainable.

Now, after war, roads, tax law and greed shaped our homes, and the economy and demographics have now made single-family homes more like one-off personal investments rather than an industry here in Connecticut, the International Building Code has changed how we make the next generation of homes: this time for the children of the baby boomers and the downsizing boomers themselves: the Box Apartment Building. But why, oh, why, must these sparkly new constructions be so banal and blank?

The way the building code defines what gets built describes the essential realities available for any architect to deal with in this brave cheap world.

This new tide of bland building is not any architect’s vision, no, it’s due to how a code revision reduced the cost of construction so that the needs of the 21st century are met with a profit margin that spurs development. …

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Photos by Duo Dickenson