Context, Community, and Capital

Keywords for the Architecture of Housing under Neoliberalism


  • Susanne Schindler ETH Zurich



This essay focuses on the language architects use to navigate the intersection of architecture, housing, and neoliberalism. Schindler argues that terminology plays a powerful role in allowing architects to avoid the socio-economic assumptions embedded in their work. Schindler traces the emergence, evolution, and codification of two such terms, ‘context’ and ‘community’, and how they have frequently been conflated. She shows how they were central to New York City’s gradual shift from welfare-state to neoliberal housing policies between the mid-1960s and the present day by connecting them to a third key term, ‘capital’. The vest-pocket housing plan developed for the South Bronx as part of the federal Model Cities programme serves as a case study. In the Bronx, the triangulation of community, context, and capital led to new development models, as well as new housing typologies, including the large-scale rehabilitation of existing tenements and small-scale new construction of row houses. The resulting shift in architectural discourse, and the codification of these practices in zoning and tax laws, have remained in force in New York City to this day.

Author Biography

Susanne Schindler, ETH Zurich

Susanne Schindler is an architect and historian focused on the intersection of policy and design in housing. She is currently a visiting lecturer at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning and co-directs the MAS program in the history and theory of architecture at ETH Zurich. From 2013 to 2016, Susanne was lead researcher and co-curator of the research and exhibition project House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate at Columbia University, and co-author of The Art of Inequality. In her current book project, based on her doctoral research at ETH Zurich, Susanne analyses how the little-known and largely discredited Model Cities program played out in New York in the late 1960s and set the stage for many housing practices still with us today. Susanne writes regularly for a range of publications, including  Urban Omnibus, the online journal of the Architectural League of New York.


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