The American single-family house is more an image than a collection of built artifacts, a resilient and malleable representation for which many claims have been made and many actions have been justified, and about which many stories have been told. In the classic image of the Levitt house, to take a specific example, the little building is merely a background for its young owners, a white nuclear family posing in aspirational Sunday best on the still-bare front lawn. The “real” background comprises an invisible, historically specific, complex intersection of legal, financial, land-use and planning policies, social mores, and design choices. Many scholars, including Kenneth Jackson and Dolores Hayden, have charted variations of this compound...

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