Sep 12th 2021

Porcelain Utopia: Mid-Century Lustron homes in Illinois and Beyond
Photographs by Dirk Fletcher
In conjunction with the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial

From the artist’s statement:

“It is the end of the 1940s and GIs are returning from the war to find a housing shortage. Industrialist and entrepreneur Carl Strandlund recognized this opportunity and retooled his fledgling porcelain enameled stainless steel gas station and hamburger stand business into a promise for these GIs.

Just three years after the company’s first house rolled off its Henry Ford style production line, the Lustron Corporation declared bankruptcy. Before shuttering the factory, over 2500 homes had been delivered. According to the Whitehall Historical Society, approximately 1800 homes are still standing today.

It is the success or failure of this American Dream that intrigues me. Over the last three years, I have photographed over three hundred and fifty Lustron Homes. While only subtle changes determine the model, every home shares the same 2×2 porcelain building blocks, differing only in color. While sharing the same DNA, it is surprising that not a single home looks the same as the next. Regardless of geographic location, one would assume the homes were built in similar socioeconomic regions. A 1200 square foot house is going to be built in a neighborhood of similar homes.

I have seen impeccably restored homes in the same town as homes that paint a picture of poverty and daily struggles of its occupants. I cannot get out of my head that 70 years ago, kids were playing in these yards and driveways while parents celebrated similar goals, wishes and dreams that come with first time home ownership.

Now in my 50s, I’ve begun to worry about my family and my legacy. For the first time in my life, I’m cognizant of what I’m leaving behind for my children. Am I leaving a better world for them and their future families?  Have I even tried?  Having a front row seat to what 70 years can do to a community gives me pause to the choices that I have made.”

Dirk Fletcher is an American photographer whose work focuses primarily on the built environment and transportation. He has several long-term projects underway, including the documentation of post-war era porcelain enamel Lustron homes that are located across the country. He holds an MFA in Independent Filmmaking from Governors State University and a BA from Brooks Institute of Photography. In addition to shooting digitally, he is an avid designer, builder and user of 4×5, 8×10 and panoramic film cameras. He grills year-round, shoots a compound bow and lives in Brookfield with his wife and two teenage boys.

His work can be viewed at and @dirkfletcher on Instagram.

Riverside Town Hall: 27 Riverside Road, Riverside, IL 60546
Exhibition dates: September 9-December 31, 2021
Mon-Thur 9-4
Fri 9-3
Closed Sat & Sun


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