The Art of Housing: National Building Museum Exhibit Focuses on the Effects of Quality Design Principles in Affordable Housing

Nation's Cities Weekly, September 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Art of Housing: National Building Museum Exhibit Focuses on the Effects of Quality Design Principles in Affordable Housing


A recent exhibit at The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., proves the idea that good design is possible with the tight budgets associated with low-cost housing.

The exhibition--Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset--explored the far-reaching benefits of good design for residents and their broader communities.

More than a dozen current projects from across the United States were featured in the exhibition, which placed the projects within the broader historical context of affordable housing.

Today some of the country's most gifted architects are focusing their visions and energy on designing attractive, efficient homes for low-income families in both urban and rural settings.

The selected projects in the exhibit showcase these visions and demonstrate that low-cost housing does not have to mean low-quality housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Nixon Peabody LLP and Related Capital Company, a CharterMac Company, sponsored the exhibit.

Projects in Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset were selected on the basis of design excellence and demonstrated an increased recognition of the needs of tenants, and a new understanding that affordable housing can be an integral and beneficial component of any community.

As a whole, they display sensitivity to enhancing experiences in all spaces, from public and private rooms to transition spaces such as entrances, porches, lobbies, hallways and foyers.

Many provide flexibility for different family types, easy expansion and personalization. The projects also show consideration of unit and building type positioning, ensuring that units do not have unsightly views.

To be considered affordable, according to HUD, a housing project must have at least 20 percent of its units available to families making less than 50 percent of the median income for the area in which the project is located--assuming that no more than 30 percent of a family's income is spent on housing.

In light of this definition, someone earning minimum wage ($5.15 per hour) should spend no more than $257.50 per month for rent and utilities.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, there is no county in America where a household with one wage earner at this income level can afford even a modest one-bedroom apartment.

Since the American housing market by itself cannot produce enough decent housing for people of low and moderate incomes, a complex and evolving system of subsidized affordable housing has been developed.

The projects in the exhibition are unique in their individual qualities and, as a group, illustrate the wide variety of styles, sites, programs, demographics and sponsorship in contemporary American affordable housing.

Among those featured in the exhibition, highlights include Colorado Court in Santa Monica, Calif., by Pugh Scarpa Kodama: and Dove Street Independent Housing in Albany, N.Y., by Dorgan Architecture and Planning.

Colorado Court features several state-of-the-art technologies that distinguish it as a model for sustainable building and affordable housing. …

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