“Breaking New Ground” Competition Tackles Affordable Housing in the Coachella Valley

Architecture West
Resort communities and and shanty towns exist side by side in California's Coachella Valley. (Orin Zebest / Flickr)

Resort communities and and shanty towns exist side by side in California’s Coachella Valley. (Orin Zebest / Flickr)

Architectural competitions with substantial cash prizes tend to focus on monuments, museums, and other high-brow concerns. Such is not the case for Breaking New Ground: Designing Affordable Housing for the Coachella Valley Workforce. Sponsored by The California Endowment, a Los Angeles–based private health organization, Breaking New Ground targets the gap between the people who come to the Eastern Coachella Valley to play and those who keep its $4 billion agriculture and tourism industries running.

The competition is based on an existing vacant site located at the southern end of the Coachella Valley, near the Salton Sea. (Courtesy Breaking New Ground)

The competition is based on an existing vacant site located at the southern end of the Coachella Valley, near the Salton Sea. (Courtesy Breaking New Ground)

Home to resort communities including Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage, the Eastern Coachella Valley lacks affordable housing for the permanent and seasonal workers who harvest its crops and staff the local service industry. With annual salaries of just $15,000–$30,000, workers and their families are forced to live on the streets, in cars, or in one of more than 100 unpermitted mobile home parks, without access to adequate heat, hot water, sanitation, or ventilation.

Breaking New Ground will offer a total of $350,000 in unrestricted awards, including prizes for four finalists in each of the Open and Student categories. The jury will evaluate submissions based not just on physical design, but also on their economic, social, and regulatory aspects, such as: market feasibility, the provision of integrated social services, and proposed policy changes. The competition will be based on an existing 9.4-acre vacant site, selected by the County of Riverside for competition purposes only.

Though Breaking New Ground is a design and ideas competition, “The California Endowment does intend to fund a project inspired by the competition entries,” said Colin Drukker of PlaceWorks, the competition’s lead project coordinator. “Winning entries will not be guaranteed a chance to participate in a potential construction project, but they will obviously have an advantage in any subsequent RFP.”

The competition begins October 21, with online registration open sooner. The first round will conclude December 19, at which point the jury will select four winners from the Student category as well as four finalists from the Open Category. The second round, to begin January 22, will conclude with live presentations and a celebration March 30–31. (All dates are subject to change until registration opens.)

The 9.4-acre site is owned by the Housing Authority of the County of Riverside. (Courtesy Breaking New Ground)

The 9.4-acre site is owned by the Housing Authority of the County of Riverside. (Courtesy Breaking New Ground)

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