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Wisdom about affordable housing developed at Enterprise Community Partners conference

Posted: September 28, 2011

Enterprise Community Partners sponsored their 2nd annual Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute.  The concept is as simple as it is profound—bring together the country’s most talented design professionals with a small group of committed affordable housing developers and learn together in a two-and-a-half day intense workshop how to advance design excellence in affordable housing.  To the credit of the Enterprise National Design Initiatives staff, it worked beautifully and I am permanently inspired to think about design in new ways.  I was so fortunate to be there.

I will reflect more comprehensively on the experience in later blog entries, but for now I want to immediately share some things I took away from workshop participants:

From Jim Stockard, Curator of The Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, recalling what urban planner and developer Jim Rouse once told him:
If we want to solve the affordable housing crisis, we have to INTEND to do so.

From Michael Maltzan, architect from Los Angeles:
Design excellence in housing is the context for an optimistic world.

Housing design in the US became all about the houses and there was a lack of conversation about common spaces—this lack of collective is almost the definition of suburbs.

Architecture, when done well, is a strategic discipline.

From Mary Margaret Jones, a landscape architect:
We don’t talk enough about joy in the design process.  We should.

Julie Honekamp, from SNAP (a community action agency in Spokane, Washington), wore a sponge around her neck, reminding herself and signifying to us that her intention was to soak up all the ideas of others, not to insert her own.  She used this technique when attending public meetings, to good effect.

From David Dixon, architect and urban designer:
When one is on the side of the angels, one has a right to do a lot more (referring to density).

Rather than simply present a request for a variance or change from the rules, challenge the neighbors to choose between the rules and other possible outcomes they might prefer—educate and really listen, and use good data to help folks make good choices.

From David Lee, architect, explaining what he learned from Kevin Lynch:
Whatever the size of the problem, go up one size larger to start finding the solution.

If you can, give each person an individual address and try to differentiate each address visually.

From Jared Della Valle, architect and developer from NYC:
Try to bring in new architects, who may never have worked in affordable housing, because the fresh perspective is invaluable.  Combine that with peer review for constructability and implementability to be sure it will work.

From Katie Swenson, Enterprise Community Partners:
Don’t be afraid to use design to advance your vision of what the housing can be.  Try to develop clarity and articulate the single most important objective for the designers and hold them to it.

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