Daniel Caven’s book “Ordinary Architecture”

meIn 1908, Henry Ford introduced his legendary Model T to the United States. This not only changed the possibilities of mobility, but also changed the infrastructure and aesthetics of cities. Many places were so perfectly adapted to the car that by the 1940s and 50s you could drive straight to many buildings, including cinemas, restaurants, and banks. The journey by car was affordable, and thanks to sophisticated advertising campaigns, it was considered a romantic alternative to the train journey. Side effects: In 1925, about 60 percent of all deaths in cities of more than 25,000 were caused by cars. One third of the dead were children.

To make it clear that the fault does not lie with the cars, nor their owners, the term “jaywalker”, which is still used today, quickly spread. This is a careless pedestrian crossing the street at an unmarked location. The word “jay” means something like “fool”. Faced with a relentless car lobby, organizations like the Good Road Movement, founded in the late 1870s, could do little. What started as a cyclist movement was quickly hijacked by traffic clubs like the American Automobile Association. Since about 1903, the association’s Good Roads Magazine has been less concerned with bicycles and more about things like highway maintenance.

Pragmatism and flexibility are the most important virtues

Of all transportation, the automobile has had the greatest impact on American society, but horses, trains, and planes should not be underestimated either. Architect Daniel Caven explains in his new book how the landscapes and cityscapes of the American West had to adapt to a variety of transportation options. He blends text, artwork, maps, advertisements, and photographs by photographers such as Edward Curtis or Dorothea Lange into an educational and aesthetically stunning collage. If he displays the Roman Pantheon next to a supermarket in his hometown of Albuquerque, where there is only a caravan in the parking lot (Breaking Bad says hello), it becomes clear what he means when he talks about the “consolidation of the finished product”, which is “a service for a stage Our Modern Life in America”.

K Mart in Albuquerque, 2019



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Images from Daniel Caven’s book “Ordinary Architecture”

The grief of so many buildings in the United States, their theme park-like nature and always the same order, all this is revealed to anyone who spends a few days driving in the West. Interstate highway, exit, parking lots, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, residential communities: you can count on this sequence. It is a sign of a culture in which pragmatism and flexibility are among the most important virtues – and one that seems bleak and familiar to us.

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