The misguided notion that affordable housing need not be thoughtfully considered or visually compelling is fast fading. Consider the luxury development Capitol Vista in Washington, DC. Designed by local firm Determined by Design, it primarily houses Black residents and serves those with a 30 percent average area median income.
Meanwhile, the sustainable MOOS (In the Middle of our Street) development from the startup of the same name and Amsterdam firm concrete features stackable, prefab modules that weave in shared green space and a central square for gathering. The objective, says Cindy Wouters, project architect at concrete, is to ensure that a “variety of people with different backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. We hope to show with MOOS that it’s not a utopia, but a realistic and feasible plan to create decent housing for all people, without harming the planet.”
Public housing in the U.S. is particularly stigmatized and one of the people long fighting to change that is Victor Body-Lawson, principal of Body Lawson Associates. The New York firm has worked on such projects as Home Street Residences in the Bronx, the site of a former church that combines rentals for low-income seniors with a video game-fueled community center for young people.
“As an architect, educator, and developer, I tend to focus on the places where I live and work and think about what those communities need to grow and thrive,” he explains. “Affordable options for housing are a critical component for stable, equitable communities, and the shortage of such options is a crisis everywhere.” This need is reinforced in the Peninsula, an upcoming mixed-use development in collaboration with New York firm WXY in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx. Once home to a juvenile detention center, it will mix the likes of wellness and retail offerings with 740 affordable housing units.
Humanizing transitional housing for the homeless has also taken on new urgency in Los Angeles. The Whitsett West Tiny Home Village in North Hollywood, designed by Lehrer Architects LA and the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering (they’ve joined forces previously on three similar villages), houses up to 150 homeless residents on a narrow, 20-foot-wide piece of land between the 170 freeway and industrial shipping facilities and parking lots in a neighborhood-like array of 8-by-8 structures courtesy of Pallet Shelter. Made with plastic honeycomb panel walls, these petite homes also flaunt bright, joyful swaths of paint. “Beyond providing shelter, we wanted the place to nurture the sense of dignity, delight, and self-respect that every citizen deserves,” says Michael B. Lehrer, founding partner of his eponymous studio. “We hope that the urbanism of each project deepens the sense of autonomy and agency for each guest.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s December 2021 issue.