Thursday, September 06, 2012

Trailer Bibliography

In the 1990 census, seven percent of all Americans lived in mobile homes. Yet architectural historians have disdained the impermanence of this domestic form and have largely left it outside the canon. There is obviously a class bias; the majority of trailer inhabitants are in the lowest economic echelons and trailers offers a most flexible mechanism of economic coping, whether transitionally or permanently. J. B. Jackson's pioneering essay "The Mobile Home" changed the scholarly landscape. Here, I summarize what I have found to be the foundational studies on mobile homes. This is basically the beginnings of my bibliography for the North Dakota Man Camp Project (see Bill Caraher's postings on this project here)

1. J. B. Jackson, the landscape and vernacular historian best known for his The Necessity of Ruins (1980) has written the most influential essay on mobile homes: “The Mobile Home and How It Came to America,” in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984), 91-101 [first published as "The Mobile Home," New Mexico Studies in the Fine Arts, 1982]. Jackson argues that for the entire pre-modern history of architecture two parallel building traditions coincided, one of temporary and permanent architecture. Temporary architecture was built and dismantled within an individual's life time, a tradition that waned in the eighteenth century. Hence, the American trailer is not expedient product of automobiles, but the unique survivor of to a medieval tradition. See Bill's thoughts on this essay here.

2. Two books offer the best historical coverage for campers and trailers. Allan D. Wallis, Wheel Estate: The Rise and Decline of Mobile Homes (1991) is the standard book on camping and campers. John Fraser Hart, Michelle J. Rhodes and John T. Morgan, The Unknown World of the Mobile Home (2002) does not focus on campers on trailer homes. Unlike campers, trailer homes become semi-permanent once they are set into a trailer park. The book contains a number of sociological case studies, including one on Minneapolis (pp. 84-96) and Mercer County, North Dakota (pp. 40-41), based on Caroline S. Tauxe, Farms, Mines, and Main Street: Uneven Development in a Dakota County (1993). It is no surprise that Hart, Rhodes and Morgan dedicate their book to J. B. Jackson.

3. The architectural history of trailers and mobile homes is best covered in Robert Kronenburg, Houses in Motion: The Genesis, History and Development of Portable Building (1995). This well illustrated book includes a fantastic image from the 1967 issue of Trailer Life Magazine (eBay anyone?) showing astronauts transported to their launching pad with an Airstream trailer. I was thrilled to learn about Ypsilanti, Michigan's special trailer history. This is interesting to me for the Punk Archaeology project, after visiting the trailer park in Ypsilanti where Iggy Pop grew up. The bomber factory at Ypsilanti hired 42,000 workers in 1941, more than half of whom lived in trailers. Reading about Iggy Pop, it is clear that there was no social stigma growing up in the trailer parks of Ypsilanti; they were perfectly accepted middle-class communities.

4. There is a growing focus on mobile architecture from the design field. Postmodern life and concerns over sustainability have caused a boom on portable architecture in design studios throughout the world. There are some wonderful and radical work out there, such as by Atelier Bow Wow (thanks to David Salamon for the cue). In order to get a handle on this creative field, Jennifer Siegel's Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture (2002) and follow-up More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today (2008)

5. Finally from the architectural field, the work of Charlie Haylie is important, as it focuses on camps as a new and unique space for our century. His two books are Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Space (2009) and Campsite: Architecture of Duration and Place (2008). Haylie teaches architecture at the University of Florida.

1 comment:

Richard M. Rothaus, PhD said...

Interesting stuff. I've been pondering the permanence of the structures we create for our impermanent lives. If I could embrace Iggy's middle class, I would have so much more disposable income. We are so tied to the home ideal, as were our parents, that it is hard to gain perspective.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States