From American Dream to Arrested Development: An Architectural Roundup

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The uncanny eye candy of abandoned subdivisions plays a leading role in ruin porn portfolios—and coincidentally, serves as the setting of cult TV series Arrested Development, whose revival is receiving the special Architizer treatment this week.

But the architectural carcasses of pre-recession residential aspirations are more than an ironic TV set. After the property bubble burst in 2008, developers found their half-built schemes worth a fraction of their projected worth—and quite a few jumped ship altogether. We’ve compiled eight sordid stories of arrested real estate developments that remain trapped between the American dream and maligned, McMansion-strewn suburban blight.


Photo by Laura Segall/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A cavernous cul-de-sac jutting out of the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert is a microcosm of the estimated 1 million dirt lots in central Arizona that were slated for approval for new homes when the real estate market crashed.


Photo by Rich Pedroncelli

Nestled beside the dormant Mount Konocti volcano 100 miles north of San Francisco, an entire subdivision in Lakeport, California is slated for abandonment due to homes sinking into the terrain. The structural damage and destabilized water and sewer service caused by this “slow-motion disaster” has indeed left the development in a bit of a rut.


With California City, sociology professor and real estate developer Nat Mendelsohn thought he was master-planning the Mojave Desert into a model city to rival Los Angeles. Today, a grid of crumbling paved roads surrounds a Central Park, complete with a 26-acre artificial lake. The city’s skeletal sprawl allows it to claim the title of California’s third-largest geographic city.


In the “ring of death” of exurban ventures that strangled Atlanta following the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the community of WaterLace stood out for its scant 13 houses, which were originally meant to be part of a community of 400 families. Fields of weeds and unrealized blueprints for a clubhouse with a pool and tennis courts make for an uneasy landscape.


Perhaps a battle lost within California’s Inland Empire, the Rosena Ranch suburb just outside the Rialto city limits only realized 10 percent of the planned gargantuan houses. The empty lawns leave the sparse residents stunning views of the adjacent San Bernardino Mountains. The recent MoMA exhibition “Foreclosed” used this development as a case study for reconsidering suburbanism.


Photo by Bill Sanders

Atlanta architect Barry Coyle is still waiting for payment for his design for Seven Falls in Henderson County, North Carolina. None of the planned 900 luxury homes received a slab, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was revoked, and Henderson County is seeking to collect on a $6 million insurance policy to finish roads and water lines.


The rural plains surrounding Foristell, Missouri didn’t provide the economic spark to get the subdivision of Liberty off the ground. Despite the original 2006 plans to build over 1,000 homes, only a functioning post office remains.


Photo by Chris Lee

In the Forest Lakes subdivision in Caseyville, Illinois, only the shell of a model home stands amid empty streets and sidewalks—sound familiar?

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Written by Steven Thomson for Architizer