Search results for "affordable housing"

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The Opposite of Big Lots!

New York City and the AIA team up for a vacant lots competition
New York’s five boroughs are plagued with vacant lots, even as the city finds itself in a housing crisis. Architects and planners have explored potential solutions like modular construction and basement units, and now the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the AIANY are trying to recruit architects to design sensitive infill housing. Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC is soliciting design proposals for scalable solutions across 23 vacant lots around the city. The design competition is just one piece of the de Blasio administration’s Housing New York 2.0 plan, which aims to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. For the project’s first phase, competitors have until March 24 to submit their proposals for a 17-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep vacant plot at 113 West 136th Street in East Harlem. Teams that submit the best-realized drawings and project narratives will be given a $3,000 stipend, have their materials exhibited at the Center for Architecture, and will be invited back for the competition’s second phase. Immediately after the finalists are chosen, HPD will assign the remaining teams different lots to develop proposals for, and the most promising may be built. New York currently has 1,023 acres of vacant public land across 1,367 lots citywide, according to Living Lots NYC, and many of them have sat unused for decades. A holistic solution is hard to come by, as some of the lots are as narrow as 13-feet-wide and others are nearly 10,000 square feet. Although the city hasn't exactly defined what “affordable” means for these lots, the New York Times noted that HPD is shooting for two-to-three family homes and may include below-market-rate rents. The nine-person Big Ideas jury reads like a who’s-who of New York–based architects and city officials: Jury Chair: Hayes Slade, AIA, IIDA, president, AIA New York and principal, Slade Architecture Deborah Berke, FAIA, LEED AP, dean, Yale School of Architecture and founder, Deborah Berke Partners Claudia Herasme, chief urban designer, NYC Department of City Planning Nick Lembo, chairman, Monadnock Construction, Inc. Ruchika Modi, studio director and associate partner, Practice for Architecture & Urbanism Justin Garrett Moore, AICP, executive director, NYC Public Design Commission AJ Pires, president, Alloy Development Katherine W. Swenson, vice president of design, Enterprise Community Partners Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal, WXY architecture + urban design
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Future Building

What do architects want from a Green New Deal?

As the scale of climate change has accelerated and grown direr in recent months, upstart politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have made addressing the issue a central part of their political platforms. Talk of a Green New Deal (GND) has picked up since November's elections, reflecting a major shift in how Americans discuss climate change. But what is the Green New Deal and how might it impact architects?

The impetus behind the GND is simple: Because the threat of anthropogenic climate change is so fundamental, only a government-led, war-like industrial and economic mass mobilization effort can potentially transform American society quickly and thoroughly enough to avoid global catastrophe.

There are plans to unveil the first round of draft legislation at the federal level this week, but as of yet, no official set of policies has been agreed upon by legislators and activists. But various elements of a supposed GND have been touted for years (see here and here for thorough explainers).

Generally speaking, GND proponents have three specific and wide-ranging goals:

First, activists are calling for the wholesale decarbonization of the U.S. economy. That means eliminating all carbon emissions across every industry in the country, including in vital sectors like energy production, building design, construction, and transportation.

Second, this transition would include a federal jobs guarantee backed by the large-scale deployment of new public works projects. A job guarantee, which, generally speaking, would provide anyone who wanted work with some form of federal employment, would allow people currently working in carbon-intensive industries to leave their jobs for publicly-funded green-collar work. The guarantee, supporters argue, would create a vast, fairly-paid workforce that could get to work transforming American society right away.

Third, activists pushing the GND generally agree that the transition to a carbon-free economy must incorporate socially-just practices that rectify past practices that have exploited certain communities. Such reforms include finding ways to house people displaced by climate change, countering the long-term effects of redlining and the racial wealth gap, and making sure that unlike the original New Deal, the benefits and jobs created by any GND are enjoyed by people of color and other historically marginalized groups.

The initiative would go beyond simply greening the country's energy grid or incentivizing a shift to public transit and electric vehicles; the GND envisions a top-to-bottom reworking of the U.S. economy. Likely, the effort will involve densifying existing cities, building new ones from scratch, and perhaps most importantly, retrofitting and upgrading nearly all of the country’s existing building stock. Architects will be vital to the effort and are likely to benefit from a potential GND through new commissions and opportunities to provide input and expertise across a range of projects and scales.

In an effort to help spur discussion among architects on a potential plan, The Architect’s Newspaper asked designers from around the country to share their wish lists for what a potential GND might include. The responses span a range of issues that touch on the built environment, project financing, building codes, and environmental regulation, among other topics.

For some, creating incentives to reuse and retrofit existing buildings could be a key component of the deal. Karin Liljegren, principal at Omgivning in Los Angeles said, “I’d like to see how legislators can reassert the importance of the federal government’s Historic Tax Credit Program (HTC). The HTC incentivizes developers to rehabilitate iconic and viable old buildings, but it has recently been under threat after decades of stability. Enshrining these incentives in the legislation would send a massive signal to clients like ours.”

But, of course, focusing only on the most iconic historic structures would likely send many buildings to the trash heap. To address “less iconic structures or ones that require an approach that is more adaptive than restorative,” Liljegren suggested “a program of economic incentives that helps developers prioritize the broader reuse of existing buildings. Reusing a structure can certainly be more challenging than building new, but the payoffs are enormous—less embodied energy and waste is only the beginning. In terms of texture, form, and spirit, existing buildings enrich our identities and communities.”

For other architects, increasing the scope of public transportation options in parallel with boosting density is the way forward. Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of PAU in New York City, said, “A Green New Deal should include what I called the 'American Smart Infrastructure Act' in my 2013 book A Country of Cities. In that proposal, I call for the elimination of existing subsidies that encourage sprawl like highway funding, the mortgage interest deduction, and low gas taxes.” Chakrabarti argued for applying this new revenue toward building a national high-speed rail and urban mass transit network that can serve new investments in affordable transit-oriented multi-family housing and low-cost office space. The funding, however, “should only go to municipalities that discourage single-family housing density, like Minneapolis recently did,” Chakrabarti added.

Of course, the overarching network of regulatory policies, like environmental, structural, energy, and seismic codes, that shape the built environment could be improved, as well.

Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable design for HOK in Washington, D.C., pointed to the recently-adopted Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act, which she helped craft, as a potential guide for creating a “self-improving threshold” that requires building owners to retrofit existing structures above a certain size according to rigorous energy performance standards. The plan, set to take effect in 2020, seeks to align the energy performance of existing buildings with the steadily-increasing performance metrics crafted for new structures, like LEED certification and Energy Star ratings. The plan will peg the performance standards for existing buildings to the median Energy Star score for all buildings of the same type in the District of Columbia. As the overall energy efficiency of buildings in the District improves over time, the thinking goes, periodic post-occupancy reviews will help create a self-improving target that will compel building owners to upgrade their structures to avoid fines.

In addition to improving incentive programs like the HTC, changes to the way projects are financed more broadly could also help bring to life many of the GND's transformative new projects.

Claire Weisz, principal at WXY in New York City suggested the government “require banks to invest a required minimum 40 percent of their loans in building construction and projects that have sustainable longer-term benefits and proven investments in training and hiring for green jobs.”

David Baker, principal of David Baker Architects in San Francisco, advocated for increased funding for affordable and urban housing projects overall. Baker said, “A major limiting factor on beginning to solve our affordable housing crisis—and the associated climate impacts—is simply money. We have many affordable projects ready to go but currently delayed by a lack of funding.”

Peggy Deamer of The Architecture Lobby wants to make sure that the rights of workers—and the right to work, in general—are not left out of the conversation amid talk of green infrastructure and shiny, new projects. Deamer said, “It is too monothematic to go after environmental solutions without the larger economic structure into which both the effort unfolds or the new carbon-free world functions. If the tech industry’s effort at automation leaves most of us without work or income, who wants to live in that green world?”

In conversations with architects, the issue of affordable urban housing came up often, especially in relation to the stated aims of the GND’s main backers, which include increasing social equity through the program. Because America’s urban areas contain 85 percent of the country’s population and are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, it is likely that the GND’s effects will be most profoundly felt in cities.

That’s important for architects concerned with racial and social equity in the field. With a rising cohort of diverse young designers—as well as many established firms helmed by women and people of color— it’s possible a potential GND could engender a surge of important projects helmed by diverse practitioners. That possibility, when coupled with the existing diversity of urban residents and potential clients, could transform how architecture is practiced across the country.

It’s a realm where Kimberly Dowdell, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), thinks her organization can have an impact. “Black architects have a unique opportunity to take the lead in shaping the future,” Dowdell said. “In under-resourced urban communities, which are often majority Black, there is a great need for a new approach to design and development that fully embraces the quadruple bottom line: social, cultural, environmental, and financial.” Dowdell added, “NOMA members have been doing this kind of work for generations. Now, with the Green New Deal, this experience is especially relevant.”

With a “quadruple bottom line” approach at the center of a potential GND, professional architecture organizations pushing for increased equity among their ranks, and demographic trends leading to greater diversity, the architectural profession is poised for significant change that could be accelerated by a GND.

As the potential changes begin to take form, inclusion will likely remain a top priority for designers. Dowdell explains: “In general, everyone needs to have a seat at the decision-making table as it relates to shaping our collective future on this planet. With such a high concentration of minorities in cities, it is absolutely critical that a truly diverse set of minds and voices are empowered to implement the best of the Green New Deal.”

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...And Other Such Stories

The 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial announces curatorial focus
The third edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial is coming to the Midwest this fall with a curatorial vision by Artistic Director Yesomi Umolu and co-curators Sepake Angiama and Paulo Tavares. Under the theme ...and other such stories, the biennial will engage “multiple narratives from different geographies and histories” to spark conversation about a future for the field that is shared, diverse, sustainable, inclusive, and equitable. Centered around four areas of inquiry, the biennial will showcase a broad view of the industry while addressing the importance of space, architecture, and nature in connection to the practices of building, designing, planning, policymaking, teaching, and activism. The first focus, “No Land Beyond,” will feature projects inspired by an indigenous approach to nature, ecology, and landscape, while “Appearances and Erasures” will dive into designing monuments and memorials in response to shared and contested memories. “Rights and Reclamations” and “Common Ground” will explore civil rights and advocacy within the field with a particular concentration on affordable and equitable housing. The biennial will also draw from Chicago’s own urban development history, as well as the spatial and socio-economic conditions that have shaped it. By “moving beyond the grand narratives of the city’s architectural heritage,” the biennial will highlight the unique experiences of both architects and everyday people by sharing new voices and perspectives on the environmental and socio-political issues that make up Chicago’s landscape. This idea will be echoed in projects brought to the biennial from around the world. In preparation for the multi-month event, the curators have worked on research initiatives in Chicago, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, and Vancouver to uncover the most important issues to architects and citizens living in cities today. “Through these engagements,” Umolu said in a statement, “we have drawn out a myriad of stories about how lived experiences across global communities, cities, territories, and ecologies resonate with architectural and space-making practices.” The 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial will run from September 19, 2019, through January 5, 2020. It is free and open to the public. The central exhibition will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center, and other sites throughout the city will host exhibitions, projects, and panels.
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The co-ops are alright

Co-op City celebrates 50 years of affordable housing in the Bronx
Off I-95 in the northern Bronx, just past the swamps at the mouth of the Hutchinson River and the paved paradise at Bay Plaza mall, arise 35 massive, brick and concrete tower blocks. Most residences nearby are single-family, but Co-op City's 24-story towers shoot out of the ground like sore, red-brick thumbs. But, as out of place as they seem, there are many similar complexes all around New York City and the rest of the country: Stuyvesant Town by the East Village, Riverton Square in Harlem, and the gone-but-never-forgotten Pruitt-Igoe projects of St. Louis. According to Adam Tanaka, a New York–based urbanist who studied these Bronx housing blocks for his Harvard graduate dissertation, Co-op City is the country's largest and most successful cooperative living facility. Many of its 35,000 residents have been living in them since they opened 50 years ago. In a mini-documentary published with CityLab, entitled "City in a City," Tanaka interviewed residents, building managers, representatives, and others involved in the conception of the towers to understand what makes these buildings so successful compared to other projects. On top of interviews and historical analysis, documentary footage shows what life at Co-op City is like. During most weekends of fair weather, tenants and local merchants buy and sell art and food, local musicians perform while residents dance, and children play on the swing sets. Wildlife even has a large presence there: residents have reported seeing deer. What is so special about Co-op City that allows for beautiful scenes like this to be the norm? Tanaka suggests the towers owe their success not to the City of New York, nor to any federally-funded programs, but to their fellow resident, architects, and the coalition of labor unions responsible for the towers’ development. The documentary highlights several of the complex's relatively unique features: a ban on market-rate apartment resale, permanent rent control (which was established in the early '70s after the state tried to increase rents for Co-op City’s tenants), affordable down payments, an elected representative board, self-funded maintenance, and a racially, culturally, and financially diverse group of tenants. But architectural features like larger-than-average apartments with grand windows and ample living and storage space, as well as multiple communal parks and green spaces—all of which was designed by architect Herman J. Jessor, inspired by Le Corbusier’s Villes Radieuse and Contemporain—play major roles, as well. In the documentary, Alena Powell, a resident of Co-op City since 1973, said a friend from the Upper East Side “was amazed because [Powell’s] living room could hold her [friend's] living room and kitchen all together.” Powell also “likes the fact that [she’s] not on top of other people as if [she] was living in Manhattan.” Other residents remark about how “spacious” the apartments are, and how they love the consistent natural light. Pleasing as they may be for many who live there, the Co-op City buildings were (and are) not without criticism. According to an article in Curbed by historian James Nevius, the Co-op City buildings stand as a testament to the ethics of erasing "slums," and to the power of the infamous Robert Moses, whose "bulldoze it" approach to entire neighborhoods is a highly-debated matter, to say the least. During construction in the early 1970s, many rallied against the design and construction of the towers, citing the cheap and unpleasing exterior. Nevius cites Jane Jacobs, who stated they were “truly marvels of dullness and regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life.” Nevius also references criticisms by the AIA: "Similarly, the American Institute of Architects complained that 'the spirits of the tenants' at Co-op City 'would be dampened and deadened by the paucity of their environment.'" However, many in Tanaka's documentary do not share those opinions and come to the towers' defense. Ken Wray, former executive director of the United Housing Federation, says “the aesthetic was ‘Why waste money on the outside of the building?’ You don’t live on the outside of the building…People driving by might think it’s ugly but people who live there know what [the apartments] look like.” Often overlooked, too, is a sprawling meadow laced among the buildings. According to Nevius, over 80 percent of Co-op City's footprint is dedicated to landscaping: grass and trees with play structures, courts, benches, and market stands on the perimeter. For the people who use these daily, these are helpful amenities that similar developments do not have. Co-op City raises questions about the emphasis on policy or architecture, about interior design versus exterior, about the house and the outdoors, and about ownership and citizenship. Regardless of where one lands on these issues, there's something to be learned from these 35 towers in the Bronx.
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The King of Co-Living

European co-living developer plans big entrance into U.S. market
Quarters, a major European co-living company, plans to invest $300 million toward building new developments across the United States and becoming the nation’s largest co-living operator by 2022, according to an article in Curbed. Millennials are the primary target demographic for the co-living industry. Due to financial issues and their tendency to lead nomadic lifestyles, young adults are typically the most interested in shared housing spaces. By offering pre-furnished bedrooms, shared common spaces, and amenities such as 24/7 laundry access, cleaning services, Wi-Fi, and community events, co-living companies like Quarters want to provide Millennials with more affordable access to increasingly overpriced, metropolitan neighborhoods. Quarters’s $300 million expansion deal was made possible by a $1.1 billion fundraiser led by its parent company, Medici Living. Medici’s goal is to buy and build up to 35 co-living facilities throughout Europe, and over 1,300 new residential units in the U.S. within the next three years, according to Curbed. The Berlin-based company already operates co-living spaces in New York City and Chicago, but it plans on expanding its footprint to cities like Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Seattle—all of which are teaming with millennials and startup activity. Residential projects at these sites could house between 100 and 300 people, while new spaces in New York could hold up to 500. Like Quarters, other co-living firms have upped their ambition, diverting their attention away from small group homes to focus on large-scale high-rises. WeWork, the massive, New York-based co-working company, recently unveiled "WeLive," its latest co-living project with its first apartment building located at 110 Wall Street in Manhattan. The Manhattan high-rise, whose private studios start at $3,050 a month, offers apartment dwellers flexible leasing, access to fitness classes, cleaning and laundry services, potluck dinners, and a digital social network, all conveniently accessed through a mobile app. According to Curbed, WeLive, if successful, plans to eventually house 600 people throughout the 20 floors of the Lower Manhattan high-rise, as well as build more developments in other major U.S. cities. While co-living is not a new or innovative concept, companies like Quarters and WeWork have transformed it into a business model to take advantage of the fluctuating economy and provide young adults with a service that can make city living more affordable and hospitable.
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Connected to Messenger, of Course

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative pledges $500 million for Bay Area affordable housing
Hot off Microsoft’s announcement that it would be creating what is essentially a $500 million affordable housing bank for the Seattle area, the founder of Facebook has unveiled a similar fund for California’s Bay Area. Through a group of businesses, nonprofits, and philanthropists, the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, which was established through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will invest $500 million to preserve and build affordable housing. That pledge from the Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan–led charity extends to San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties. The move, which the fund estimates will add 8,000 new units of affordable housing while preserving an existing 175,000 units over the next five-to-ten years, comes at a dire time. As Fast Company points out, only 58,000 new units were built in the Bay Area from 2012 through 2016 even though the region added 373,000 new jobs. From that perspective, it looks like the fund won’t make much of an impact, but the backing groups are hoping that they can lay the groundwork for long-term tenant protections, rent reform, and future investments. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative revealed the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, which has already raised $260 million of its $500 million target, in a January 24 announcement. The nonprofit San Francisco Foundation joins the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Ford Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Facebook, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The partnership will focus primarily on its two Investment and Policy Funds. The $500 million Investment Fund, to be managed by LISC (which the release calls the “the largest nonprofit community development financial institution in the country”), will invest in projects agreed upon by other members of the partnership. Their first project? Offering a revolving line of credit, which can be repaid and borrowed against, to the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation for neighborhood development in the East Bay. The organization expects that with the investment fund’s backing, it can support the completion of six projects over the next five years. The Policy Fund, which has raised $20 million of its $40 million goal, will be used to push for legislation that preserves housing, makes building new affordable housing easier, and strengthens low-income tenant protections. The fund will be administered by the San Francisco Foundation and will offer Challenge Grants for broader projects, and smaller, technically-minded Breakthrough Grants.
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Rethinking Redevelopment

What we’re getting wrong about gentrification and cultural heritage
We tend to think of cultural heritage in terms of iconic historical artifacts, and we tend to think of saving cultural heritage in terms of heroic acts to preserve historically important things. We tend to think of gentrification as an inevitable economic phenomenon that, like so many other components of our capitalist lives, produces winners and losers—benefitting some and injuring others. But the way we tend to think of both gentrification and cultural heritage is bound up in ideological forces that devalue the lived experiences of those most threatened by the onslaught of transformative economic change. We are all familiar with how gentrification works. A historically working-class community sits adjacent to an upper-middle-class community where previous residents have been priced out. During the next real estate cycle, incremental pressure results in more upper-middle-class residents purchasing homes in the working-class area and eventually, the working-class residents get priced out and seek housing further outside of their community, resulting in longer commutes and a net loss in wealth. In a recent Washington Post article, “How record-setting art auctions are ruining the old neighborhood,” Philip Kennicott wrote: “Gentrification is about displacement, about the market coming in, taking things that felt like accessible common property and making them so uncommonly expensive that they are no longer what they once were…Something that was once habitual, a part of a beloved place—buying a cup of coffee or getting a haircut—becomes a locus of exclusion.” Kennicott’s premise is that gentrification takes affordable assets and makes them economically unattainable. But exclusion is about constraining options, not displacing options. If people can choose to purchase coffee either from a Starbucks or from an historic coffee shop next door, then diverse classes have an expanded set of options in the same proximate space. If we apply this example to residential units and other commercial sites, we could potentially develop communities without the blunt force of gentrification, i.e. without a simplistic acceptance that capitalism inevitably will produce ever-expanding zones of exclusion absent human intervention. Regardless, Kennicott and others err by focusing on exclusion at the expense of focusing on the processes of devaluation. Devaluation, in the context of urban gentrification, describes the processes by which systemic and institutional actions suppress the value of physical assets in underserved and low-income communities. Devaluation occurs through public policy—residential redlining, environmental racism and classism, deficits of public parks and civic amenities, etc. Revaluing is catalyzed when a devalued community is targeted for reinvestment. What are constantly undervalued are the untranslatable vestiges of the interior lives of displaced residents, the staged presence of culture within the homes and apartments that these residents once occupied. The architectural uncanny, according to Anthony Vidler, treats modernity as a catalyst for unleashing psychoanalytic forces deep in subjective will to produce simulated anxieties uniquely connected to the project of modernity—“feeling-effects” like alienation or estrangement, or the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own home. Revaluing these physical assets—seen as hollow shells or neutral sites for architectural reinvention and transformation by the wealth class— is heralded as the city remaking itself and becoming contemporary, as the supposedly inevitable transformation of physical structures no longer adhering to uses they have outgrown and responding to society’s new demands. For some communities and polities, the interiority of cultural experience is one of the few available modes of resistance. The exterior image of the typical single-family home is largely regulated by zoning codes and often bland aesthetic norms. Likewise, low-income apartment buildings and the like are already depicted as places of low cultural life and places where drug usage and violence coalesce. Therefore, any exterior treatment that further marginalizes the physical asset and the inhabitants further degrades and marginalizes the inhabitants’ existence. From the dramatic description of Harriet Jacobs’s garret as described in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to the expressive imaging of Black American life in Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry series, the interior space of Black American life has been where culture is materialized. Undoubtedly, the interior space is still the place where the most marginalized populations find their unique counter-cultural voice expressed through the aesthetic construction of their spaces and lives. Working at the intersection of architecture, theory, and urbanism, USC Architecture is attempting to think anew about “pre-gentrification zones”—places that, because of land ownership and the scale of under-development in comparison to adjacent real estate markets, are ripe for large-scale rethinking in advance of unregulated market-driven development that would force out current residents, landowners, and renters. Working with municipalities, community groups, and designers, we will utilize design as a form of policy to influence future development in these and other areas. In Los Angeles, Fresno, and the San Diego/U.S.-Mexico border region, we will examine and analyze the conditions and presuppositions that support the processes of devaluation and revaluation, as well as speculate as to how interventions can be made by market and non-market actors in achieving more egalitarian results to urban redevelopment imaginings. Cultural heritage is no longer separate from urban redevelopment, just as gentrification is no longer an issue that exclusively affects the poor. As we are witnessing, a lack of affordable housing creates ripple effects in all housing markets and sub-markets and thus affects the pricing of both rental and owner-occupied housing across virtually all sectors of the market. We must use design, architecture, and aesthetics as primary drivers of new policy interventions that will result in the development of cities in which all are able to afford the civic and public infrastructure that we all pay for. Milton S. F. Curry is Dean and Professor at the USC School of Architecture and holds the Della & Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair in Architecture. Dean Curry obtained his Master in Architecture post-professional degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design and his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University. He was associate dean for academic affairs and strategic initiatives at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Planning from 2010 to 2017. Dean Curry has held teaching positions at Harvard University, Arizona State University, and Cornell University. Throughout his career in academia, he has coordinated graduate and undergraduate design studios at all levels and has taught theory-related seminars on architecture and cultural theory, urbanism, and housing. He is recognized as a leading voice in integrating cultural theory, race, and class into the ongoing interrogation of modernism and modernity. He has founded two academic journals: Appendx in 1993 and CriticalProductive in 2008.
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No Towers, No Comprise

Architecture collective joins activists to protest luxury towers on New York's Lower East Side
One Manhattan Square, an 800-foot-tall glass tower in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is at the center of a grassroots battle against displacement. Designed by Adamson Associates, the Extell Developmentbacked skyscraper threatens to push out throngs of immigrants and longtime local residents who call the area home. It’s a common story found in the ever-evolving city, but this particular narrative possesses one distinct difference: It’s location. Since much of New York’s luxury residential building boom has focused on expanding Hudson Yards, buffing up Billionaires’ Row, and readying Long Island City for Amazon’s HQ2, the Lower East Side has been somewhat unaffected by such large-scale development. Until now. A series of sky-high apartment buildings, starting with the nearly-complete One Manhattan Square (also called Extell Tower), is slated to dot the Lower East Side waterfront enclave known as Two Bridges. Four planned towers are in the works, although One Manhattan square is the only one currently under construction. The surrounding community is predominantly composed of Chinese immigrants and working-class people, a major reason why the city designated the neighborhood a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972, which protects and promotes affordable and mixed-income housing for residents. According to Zishun Ning, leader of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the proposed high-end projects violate the LSRD, which requires that all new developments secure approval from the City Planning Commission or receive special permits through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Ning argued the city's decision to move forward with the Two Bridges development is therefore illegal, and indicative of discrimination from the mayoral administration. Not only is it politically fraught, according to Ning, it's socially irresponsible. The towers are situated within a three-block radius of each other and will sit near NYCHA housing. One will cantilever over an existing senior center and another, One Manhattan Square, will feature a “poor door,” as the coalition calls it, for the building’s affordable housing residents.   Yesterday a slew of protestors gathered at the 80-story tower and marched to City Hall in opposition to the plan. Ning said the day’s event, officially titled the March to Reclaim the City, was the coalition’s latest attempt to get Mayor de Blasio’s attention. “We’re not against development,” Ning said, “we just want some regulation and future development that fits our community.” Last fall the group submitted an alternative proposal to the commission in which the neighborhood could be rezoned for more appropriate use. They integrated height restrictions on new construction and called for 100 percent affordable housing on public land. Ning said their efforts were ignored, and in early December, the commission approved a special building permit submitted by the developers. The commission said the projects only presented a “minor modification” to Two Bridges’ zoning law and that a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process would not be required. “It’s evident that racism plays into the city’s zoning policies,” said Ning. “They rezone communities of colors for the interests of developers. We call out the city’s illegal approval, along with Mayor de Blasio’s collusion with developers to approve these towers and deny our plan that came out of a democratic process. We want to reclaim our democracy and control as a community.” History has seen many local working groups stand up against giant developers and influential politicians, but, according to Ning, there needs to be more support from area architects to help such groups envision a bigger, more inclusive picture for their neighborhoods. A new collective of aspiring architects and non-architects interested in the field, citygroup, wants to do just that. The organization aims to become a young social and political voice for the architecture industry. Members gather periodically for informal debates on serious topics like the need for affordable housing in New York, the nature of architectural expertise, and architects’ tricky relationship with real estate developers. The group's inaugural exhibition, set up inside its new space on the Lower East Side, details various visions of One Manhattan Square that imagine a more useful development for the local community. “We wanted to rethink the Extell Tower as something that isn’t as foreign to this neighborhood as it is now,” said Michael Robinson Cohen of citygroup. “It’s built on a plinth and houses mostly luxury apartments. We asked ourselves, How could we recreate the tower for different uses or for a diverse group of inhabitants?”   The exhibition centers on a series of 21 drawings done by different citygroup members. These individual visions, expressed within the confines of the building’s plan, feature different ways to reuse the tower’s 1.2 million square feet of space. Some pictured it as pure parkland, others cut it up into a grid of 3-meter-by-3-meter apartments. One strips away the idea that a housing complex must cater to the traditional single-family home by creating personally-designed apartments outfitted for everyone from single moms to yoga teachers, a Russian oligarch, a cat lady, and even a family of five. Thinking critically about megaprojects like One Manhattan Square, according to Robinson Cohen, allows architects to investigate the best ways for new developments to improve a community, instead of displacing residents and stripping away the character of a neighborhood. “Much like the coalition, we’re for challenging the tower, but are not against development in general,” he said. “Obviously, as architects, we want to build and it’s clear the city needs more housing, but to us it’s important to think about the people these developments serve.” To Ning, the architect’s mission isn’t far from that of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. He says the two parties can work together to imagine developments that engage with local residents rather than taking away access to light and air. “We actually encourage architects to put their creativity into building things that benefit the community,” Ning said. “But in order for that to happen, we first need to fight the city.” A new lawsuit against the City was just brought on by the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors in opposition to the development. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is slated to support with future litigation efforts. Until then, the City is still contending with another lawsuit calling for the towers to go through the ULURP process, initiated by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month. “These towers are just one piece of a bigger picture,” noted Ning. “If 3,000 units are added to the neighborhood, the demographics will change and the land value will rise. Harassment and eviction will escalate. This is happening all over New York City. It’s segregation, and it’s very visual.” Walk-throughs of citygroup’s exhibition are available upon request through early February at 104b Forsyth Street. Email group@citygroup.nyc for hours.
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Living in the Cloud

Microsoft to invest $500 million in affordable housing around Seattle
After vociferous opposition from Starbucks, Amazon, and other large Seattle-based corporations last summer, the Seattle City Council voted to roll back a tax that would have raised $47 million towards building 591 units of affordable housing. Now, Microsoft has announced that it will invest $500 million for affordable housing over the next three years across King County, Washington. Seattle has been plagued by rising rents and homelessness rates as the area has grappled with a housing shortage, caused in part by inflated demand and stagnant wages. Amazon and other so-called “mega-corporations” in the city had successfully talked the government down from imposing a $500-per-employee head tax that would have funded 1,700 new units of affordable housing in May of 2018 before the watered down version of the tax was ultimately killed in June. Affordable housing and homelessness advocates, who felt that the large companies headquartered in Seattle are partially responsible for its tight housing market, saw the move as adding insult to injury. Microsoft, which is headquartered in neighboring Redmond, wouldn’t have been hit with the head tax, but the initiative sparked a dialogue between Microsoft and the business-led group Challenge Seattle. The plan, which is still being finalized, sprung out of their conversations last summer on how to close the gap in affordability in housing across the region. The $500 million will be doled out as a series of grants that Microsoft is calling “targeted investments," across three stratified tiers. The company will load $225 million at a lower-than-market rate to spur the construction of middle-income housing across six cities to the east of Seattle: Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton, and Sammamish. Microsoft will be lending an additional $250 million at market rate to support the construction of low-income housing across King County. The remaining $25 million will be distributed as grants to combat homelessness in and around Seattle. As part of its announcement, Microsoft revealed that $5 million of its grant will be going towards Home Base, a program that provides legal aid to families facing eviction, and another $5 million will be used to support a new joint agency being formed between Seattle and King County to tackle homelessness. Rather than using that money to solely build housing, which Microsoft expects would only generate about 1,000 new affordable units, the tech company claims that its targeted investments have the potential to spark development of “tens of thousands” of new units. While the company doesn’t expect to make much of a return, it plans to repeat the process and reinvest the money after being repaid. While this is Microsoft’s largest philanthropic gift to date, the company’s motives likely aren’t entirely altruistic. As the New York Times noted, the company is currently riding high with nearly $136 billion in cash on hand and is in the process of renovating its 500-acre Redmond campus. Supporting the region’s housing stock is a boon to lower-income residents, but will also provide a long-term solution for potential employees the company continues to woo as it expands.
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Redwood and Deadwood

California launches statewide Mass Timber Building Competition
Timber construction is on a roll, whether it be in Olympic stadiums or high-rise residences. Codes are changing as more municipalities embrace mass timber and the industry shifts away from concrete. Not to be left out, California is holding a Mass Timber Building Competition. The California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) is hosting the competition, and WoodWorks – Wood Products Council, an organization that offers free guidance for designers using timber, will be administering the program. As GovOps notes, California is one of the largest consumers of engineered wood products in the country, but almost none of it is harvested or produced in the state. At a time when the buildup of forest density in California has contributed to an ever-worsening fire season already acerbated by climate change, GovOps is pitching this competition as a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Interested parties in California—including real estate developers, designers, institutions, and other organizations—have until March 18, 2019, to submit a proposal. GovOps is going big and is only accepting proposals for multistory, 10,000-square-foot-plus mixed-use, commercial, industrial, institutional, or multi-unit housing projects. Preference will be given to projects over 100,000 square feet that clear six stories. A full list the competition guidelines are available here, and it looks like proposals will be evaluated on cost as well as “narrative” in an attempt to create thoughtful applications of timber. WoodWorks will also be available to offer guidance to entrants on both feasibility as well as design. The two (or possibly more) winning teams will split a $500,000 grant to continue their research into developing repeatable, sustainable, and affordable timber construction.
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From HUD to the Whitehouse?

Former HUD secretary Julián Castro announces 2020 presidential bid
As the candidate field for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president grows more crowded by the day, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro announced over the weekend—in both English and Spanish—that he is embarking on a presidential bid of his own. The 44-year-old San Antonio, Texas, native served as HUD Secretary for over two years under President Barack Obama and was briefly considered as a vice presidential pick for 2016 Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton. Prior to his tenure in the Obama administration, Castro served as the mayor of San Antonio for five years. During his time as HUD Secretary, Castro worked to create the National Disaster Resilience Competition, a federal program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation that awarded $1 billion for resilient housing and infrastructure projects to states and communities that were impacted by major disasters between 2011 and 2013. That sum was in addition to over $18 billion in conventional government funding awarded to disaster-stricken communities during the Obama administration. Castro also led the expansion of lead safety protections in federally assisted housing and helped to institute the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to "finally fulfill the full obligation of the Fair Housing Act,” according to a 2017 memo. Castro also continued initiatives started under his predecessor that contributed to a dramatic decrease in the number of American veterans experiencing homelessness. While mayor of San Antonio, Castro successfully inaugurated a plan to bring “high-quality, full-day pre-k” to the city’s residents. In announcing his presidential bid over the weekend, Castro, citing a “crisis of leadership” under President Donald Trump, pledged to refocus American society to become “the smartest, healthiest, fairest, and most prosperous nation on earth.” Castro’s platform includes instituting universal healthcare, reforming the criminal justice system, and expanding access to higher education, among other initiatives. In a nod to his time at HUD while referencing a growing housing affordability crisis around the country, Castro also pledged to “work to make sure every American has a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.” To help achieve this aim, Castro also pledged to “invest in housing that is affordable to the middle class and the poor.” Castro also stated his support for a Green New Deal, a nascent policy initiative in the works from Democratic politicians, like Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that aims to transition the American economy away from fossil fuels and toward a sustainable and socially-just economic system. Castro pledged that as his first executive order as president, he would recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement, the global initiative aimed at keeping the temperature increase resulting from anthropogenic climate change under two degrees Celsius. With affordable housing and climate change increasingly in the news, expect more presidential hopefuls to highlight their plans for addressing these issues. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who announced her candidacy in late December 2018, for example, has already unveiled an ambitious affordable housing proposal of her own. If elected, Castro, the grandchild of a Mexican immigrant, would become the first president of Mexican descent and the first former HUD secretary elected to the nation’s highest office.
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Factory-Built

California is embracing prefab architecture with innovation, talent, and investment
With a long history of mass-produced housing experiments going back to the 1920s Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail-order homes, and the post–World War II suburban mass- housing experiments, California has a rich legacy of prefab hits—and misses. In recent years, a new generation of builders has arrived on the scene seeking to surpass this legacy by exploiting emerging mass-customization techniques and new technologies to streamline production. But these aren’t your grandparents’ prefab units. The days of rigid space-age designs are long gone, replaced by new designs that instead focus on diverse aesthetics and material flexibility. These new designs tend toward a pervasive adaptability that not only bolsters their widespread appeal but also helps builders meet the onerous local design restrictions that define many California communities. LivingHomes, based in Santa Monica, California, offers a variety of factory-made designs for single- and multifamily units, including models designed by prominent architects and firms such as Yves Béhar, Ray Kappe, and KieranTimberlake. LivingHomes’ designs are built by its spinout firm, Plant Prefab, which focuses on construction and assembly. Founder and CEO Steve Glenn is hoping Plant Prefab will lead the way in creating a national network of home-building factories where “homes are built like airplanes” rather than as one-off works, as is currently the case. Plant Prefab bills itself as the nation’s first sustainably minded home factory, and recently garnered a $6.7 million investment from Amazon, which is looking to expand the market for the company’s Alexa smart home technologies. Seattle-based Blokable, on the other hand, pursues vertically-integrated projects with the help of their in-house development team’s business model, which seeks to treat “housing development as a service.” By controlling planning, design, and production, Blokable is able to offer turnkey development services for local nonprofits and other housing providers at a lower cost. The firm offers standardized building systems along with customizable windows, doors, and finishes in order to meet a variety of price points. Blokable has begun the development process for a 64-unit housing complex in Edmonds, Washington. The project is a partnership between Blokable, the City of Edmonds, and the nonprofit Compass Housing Alliance. At the smaller end of the building scale, Gardena, California–based Cover is working to boost the availability of backyard Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Los Angeles. Owing to a 2016 state law that legalized these backyard structures, Cover has developed unique zoning analysis software that can give potential clients a view of what type of ADU they can build. Cover offers sleek custom designs and uses its own modular building systems, fabricating units in a new factory in southern L.A. County. While many of these outfits are relatively new, legacy prefab designers are also making strides. Office of Mobile Design (OMD) principal Jennifer Siegal has been working at the intersection of portable architecture and housing for over two decades, pioneering a distinct approach to modular design that is flexible enough to include additions to existing buildings, as well as develop modular commercial structures. Siegal recently partnered with builder Bevyhouse and premium kitchen designer Tortoise to develop her own line of prefab ADU models and is also currently working on a modular design for the Sanderling Waldorf School in Carlsbad, California. If OMD’s continued experiments in non-housing prefab building types are any indication, factory-made structures of all types could soon make their way off the assembly line and to a community near you.