High Life

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Condo Living in the Suburban Century

Matthew Gordon Lasner

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The first comprehensive architectural and cultural history of condominium and cooperative housing in 20th-century America.

Today, one in five homeowners in American cities and suburbs lives in a multifamily home rather than a single-family dwelling. As the American dream evolves, precipitated by declining real estate prices and a renewed interest in city living, many predict that condos will become the predominant form of housing in the 21st century. In this unprecedented study Matthew Gordon Lasner explores the history of co-owned multifamily housing in the United States, from New York City's first co-op, in 1881, to contemporary condo and townhouse complexes coast to coast. Lasner explains the complicated social, economic, and political factors that have increased demand for this way of living, situating the trend within the larger housing market and broad shifts in residential architecture. He contrasts the prevalence and popularity of condos, townhouses, and other privately governed communities with their ambiguous economic, legal, and social standing, as well as their striking absence from urban and architectural history.

Matthew Gordon Lasner is assistant professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College.

“More than merely a history, this is a serious rethinking of the ‘suburban century’. . . . Rich in detail [and] . . . a good read.”—Planning Magazine

“An excellent history of an influential form of residential tenure in the United States, in which many households share ownership of the collective property in which they live. This is a neglected but important subject in the fields of urban studies, architectural and planning history, and American cultural history.”—Alexander von Hoffman, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, author of House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods

“Could this book be about the rare, defiantly urban souls opting for the sleek new high-rise as the rest of the old neighborhood packs up for the suburbs? Indeed, for a time that was true, but the real story is nowhere near as simple, and a good deal more interesting.”—Metropolis 

“This superb study of co-owned housing in America—from the first cooperative buildings in 19th century New York City to condominiums around the country today-is not only an architectural history but also a social, political, urban, economic, and political one . . . this is an indispensable book for anyone involved with housing or simply interested in social trends.”—Jayne Merkel, Architectural Record

“Lasner deftly establishes co-ownership and the condo as a topic worthy of ongoing historical research.”—Southern California Quarterly
“Erudite, deeply researched, and highly original. . . . Lasner writes with grace and ease, integrating finely-grained details about specific developments, people, and locales with grand themes of social history.”—Carla Yanni, Rutgers University
High Life, clearly written and abundantly illustrated, focuses on the innovative designers and developers who found ways to create enduring forms of condominium and cooperative ownership through trial, error, and imitation.”—The American Historical Review
“A fascinating study of collective housing in the United States. . . Lasner’s history is an intriguing and timely book, rich in insights and observations about collective housing ownership patterns and practices within the suburban century.”—The Journal of Popular Culture
“For a better understanding of the history and significance of co-ownership in the USA, Lasner’s High Life is, and should remain, an essential and entertaining source.”—Planning Perspectives

“In High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century, Matthew Gordon Lasner traces the history of collective homeownership in the United States. This groundbreaking account ranges from the 1830s to the recent past and covers a wide range of metropolitan locations and building types . . . Lasner’s work challenges those who study cities to think more creatively about them and to move their analysis more fluidly between city centers and suburban enclaves.”—Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
“[a] detailed, eye-opening volume . . . High Life is more than the sum of its parts. Architecture, planning, real estate development, financing, cultural outlooks, social conventions, as well as visionary thinking and pragmatic tendencies, innovation and conservatism, artistic prowess, and workmanlike practicality—all figure in Lasner’s analysis. But, as valuable as his treatment of the understudied realm of co-owned housing is, the ultimate value of this book transcends that subject. High Life plants itself firmly among a small number of texts that are essential to understanding how Americans regard housing as a manifestation of the freedoms bestowed on them and as a means of providing their cherished concept of home. It is no less consequential in its contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted complexion of the twentieth-century metropolis.”—Richard Longstreth, The AAG Review of Books

Winner of the 2013 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize given by the Vernacular Architecture Forum
ISBN: 9780300164084
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
336 pages, 7 x 10
125 b/w illus.