Posts tagged with "Housing":

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Historic Tribeca warehouse meets its match

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This new 33-unit condominium in New York’s historic Tribeca neighborhood is composed of two buildings, a restored and converted 1905 coffee and tea warehouse on Washington Street and a matching addition on Greenwich Street. The new building produces a “double negative” effect, with identical facade detailing rendered in a matte metallic finish.
  • Facade Manufacturer Ferra Designs (base); Stromberg Architectural Products (middle); LITSCO (top)
  • Architects Morris Adjmi Architects
  • Facade Installer Mistral Architectural Metal (base); GEM (middle); GEM/LITSCO (top)
  • Facade Consultants Frank Seta Associates
  • Location New York City, NY
  • Date of Completion 2016
  • System Rainscreen
  • Products custom CNC-milled aluminum panel in a plasma finish; modular cast GFRC panels; zinc
Wesley Wolfe, director of design at New York City–based Morris Adjmi Architects, said this concept of the direct copy was influenced by both contextual and cultural factors. "Warehouses in the district often were extended as their needs for more space grew. These additions would often mimic the style of the original warehouse." Wolfe said the use of analogous materials is not uncommon, citing the tendency of industrial-era cast iron to replicate stone or brick. The project was also inspired by art and the idea of duplication in the work of pop artists like Andy Warhol. The project team used a combination of laser scanning and hand measurement to capture details in the base, middle, and top of the historic masonry facade. The base of the facade mimics it's neighboring limestone masonry, employing a marine grade aluminum panel with CNC-milled patterns. The material is finished with a plasma flame spray involving a mixture of nickel and stainless steel powder. The cost of this premium material and finish limited its use to the ground floor of the building where it's exposure is maximized to passersby. The upper floors employ a glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) panel with spray on coating with aluminum particles that mimics the look of the plasma finish of the metal panels. The custom cast panels are installed onto the facade as a rain screen assembly using a standard clip and Z-girt system backing up to a stud wall. The facade is panelized with a "modular rationality" coordinated with the composition of the punched windows of the facade. An overlapping tongue detail developed by the project team helps to minimize panel joints. Beyond the facade, a landscaped courtyard cut into the two buildings helps to connect the old with the new. The interior aesthetic parallels the two structures as well, offering rustic exposed finishes in the original warehouse and a more contemporary streamlined finish for the new addition.
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AIASF’s next Housing Forum envisions San Francisco in 2100

The American Institute of Architects San Francisco (AIASF) chapter will hold a housing forum on March 24th titled Envisioning San Francisco in 2100 that will focus on housing innovation for the San Francisco Bay Area. The forum will be moderated by architectural historian and Columbia University GSAPP Professor of Architecture Gwendolyn Wright and will work as a follow-up to a smaller convocation Wright presided over last fall. The forum will feature a keynote speech by Bay Area architect David Baker. Baker’s firm, David Baker Architects, works extensively across the Bay Area to promote and build innovative housing projects aimed at a variety of populations. Baker’s speech will be followed by a panel discussion and break-out sessions focused on issues relating to the use of public space, housing typologies, and housing finance and design with a special emphasis on what San Francisco’s housing stock might look like toward the beginning of the next century. Panelists for the debate portion of the event will include:
Adrianne Steichen, AIA, principal, PYATOK Alexa Arena, development manager, Lend Lease Allison Arieff, editorial director, SPUR + contributing writer, The New York Times Cynthia Parker, CEO, Bridge Housing Johanna Hoffman, landscape architect, Urban Fabrick Jonelle Simunich, foresight specialist, Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation Jeff Till, design principal, Studio Till Kearstin Dischinger, policy planner, citywide, San Francisco Planning Dept. Rachel Flynn, AIA, vice president of planning, FivePoint Lennar Housing, former planning director, City of Oakland Riki Nishimura, AIA, director of urban strategies, Gensler Sonja Trauss, principal, SFBARF
For more information on the event, see the AIASF website.
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San Fernando Valley poised to tackle homelessness with new $1.2 billion housing initiative

The San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles has a reputation as a quintessentially suburban enclave. But, as the inner-city areas of Los Angeles have begun to embrace the hallmarks of traditional urbanism—increased housing density, fixed-transit infrastructure, and a dedication to pedestrian space—the valley has found itself parroting those same shifts in its own distinct way.

One area where this transformation is taking shape is housing, specifically, transitional and supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals.

According to the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, the number of homeless people in the San Fernando Valley increased by 36 percent last year. Though the increase was significantly lower throughout L.A. County overall last year, one thing is clear: The number of people without homes in the areas around Los Angeles’s urban core area is growing. A similar trend is playing out across the country. Not only are urban homeless populations being increasingly displaced out toward the suburban areas by gentrification, but greater numbers of suburbanites themselves are becoming homeless, as well, due to a fraying social net and systematic income inequality.

Dire though the situation might be, Los Angeles—and the San Fernando Valley in particular—is currently poised to make strides in re-housing currently homeless individuals living in quasi-suburban environments by building a collection of new housing projects across the city. That’s because this November, 76 percent of L.A.’s voters supported Measure HHH, the city’s Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond. The initiative will raise $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for the construction of up to 10,000 units of housing for the homeless. The victory represents a shift in collective perspective that goes hand-in-hand with changing urban attitudes: As transit, density, and pedestrianism spread, so too has a visceral awareness that the city’s homeless population has been wholly abandoned by society and that action is overdue.

The passage of Measure HHH represents an opportunity for architects to assert themselves in civic and cultural discourse at an incredibly meaningful scale. And as much as the valley has begun to accept increased density, so too is it likely to see its fair share of new transitional and supportive housing as a result.

Already, the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), a local affordable housing provider known for its focus on design quality, has begun to expand into neighborhoods beyond Skid Row. The organization opened a new set of apartments designed by Los Angeles–based architects Brooks + Scarpa this summer in the MacArthur Park neighborhood just west of Downtown Los Angeles. The project, called The Six, is the group’s first development with permanent supportive housing specifically for veterans. The name of the complex comes from the military shorthand, “got your six,” which means “I’ve got your back.”

The complex is designed around a central, planted courtyard and is expected to receive LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It features solar panels on the roof and ground-level supportive services for the residents, with a large public courtyard located on the second floor. Units rise up around the perimeter of the courtyard along a single-loaded corridor and are capped by a roof terrace and edible garden. The firm also calibrated the building’s architectural massing in order to respond to passive cooling and lighting strategies and features selectively glazed exposures as well as a courtyard layout that facilitates passive lighting and ventilation.

Another project under development by SRHT is Michael Maltzan Architecture’s (MMA) Crest Apartments in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. Crest Apartments will deliver 64 affordable housing units for formerly homeless veterans. The building is laid out as a long, stepped housing block raised on a series of piers above multifunctional hard- and soft-landscaped areas. The long and narrow site shapes the complex such that the building’s mass steps around in plan as it climbs in height, creating vertical bands of windows aimed toward the street and side yard in the process. The ground floor of the complex contains supportive service areas as well as a clinic and community garden. The building recently finished construction and residents are beginning to move in.

The future of housing efforts in the valley is also being tackled by students at University of Southern California (USC), where a studio funded by the nonprofit Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWORKSHOP) is aiming to develop a rapid-re-housing prototype to be deployed across the valley. The studio, formally unrelated to Measure HHH, is led by Sofia Borges, acting director at MADWORKSHOP and R. Scott Mitchell, assistant professor of practice at USC. The professors tasked architecture students with studying the spatial implications of homelessness at the individual person’s scale.

Ultimately, the studio, with nondenominational ministry Hope of the Valley as its client, developed the beginnings of a single-occupancy housing prototype that could be mass-produced and temporarily deployed to selected vacant sites in as little as two weeks. The cohort spent the semester meeting with officials in the city government, including the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, to work on an actionable plan for implementing their prototype. The students built a full-scale mock-up of the 96-square-foot unit for their final review and detailed plans for how the unit might be aggregated into larger configurations as a sort of first-response to help people transition from living on the streets to occupying more formal dwellings like The Six or Crest Apartments.

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With 595 Baltic, Brooklyn’s co-living market continues to grow

When touring a new set of apartments, one seldom expects to hear the units are "not for everybody" from the founder and CEO of the firm selling them. Brad Hargreaves of Common, however, isn't fearful his words will affect his business. New York–based Common, which manages nine co-living apartment buildings, prides itself on making living with strangers easier while offering a slew of amenities, including fully-furnished rooms, regular cleaning, WiFi, and more. This tour of 595 Baltic—the company's sixth location in Brooklyn—showcased their latest endeavor into the emerging co-living market. To get a place at Common, prospective tenants are interviewed and checks are made on their finances and background to ensure everything is in order. (This isn't Craigslist.) And while Hargreaves increasingly sounded like he was whittling down his audience in search of the right type of tenant, people are applying in their droves. Prior to opening Common Baltic, the company received more than 12,000 applications for an existing 120 rooms in New York and San Francisco. Walking into 595 Baltic Street—which can house 135 tenants—you're greeted by a lobby with elevators and two social areas coming off it. Herein lies the premise of Common: It aims to be a community, where faces are familiar and residents engage in activities together, even outside their apartment. "There are plenty of buildings where you can have your own private space and be anonymous in the elevator, but this is not that place," said Hargreaves. When setting up Common, Hargreaves said he and the firm took inspiration from the co-living culture in Europe, in particular, Bjarke Ingels' 8 House in Copenhagen. "In Europe, co-living is much more accepted. There are buildings built specifically for co-living residents, but not so much here," he said, later adding that Ingels' other housing projects in Denmark's capital acted as precedents for "fostering community." Common is attempting to establish this way of life in the U.S. Once a week, cleaners replenish kitchen basics (salt, pepper, kitchen roll) and tidy up the shared living spaces. All apartments are fully furnished, complete with washers, dryers and SONOS speakers. A gym, bike storage, and 40 parking spaces are available too. "We wanted to create a residential management company that specifically addressed the challenges of moving to a city and living with strangers," Hargreaves continued. "The biggest part of this, is the idea of community. We like that people here don't just open their doors to a hallway, they open to a living room where there are other people." "Communities" are bound by floors which typically hold 15 to 25 residents. On each level there is a "house leader." This person, who volunteers their services in the application process, keeps most things in order and plans events and activities for residents to take part in. Common even provides $50 a month per person for this. Floor managers also enjoy subsidized rent. The experience sounds akin to living in university dormitories. At 595 Baltic, "traditional," more private dwellings are available to rent too, the split is 50/50 between co-living and traditional apartments. Sophie Wilkinson, head of design and construction at Common, said the bedrooms across the nine Common locations all the same. Social areas, though, are slightly different and offer some variation. Wilkinson also explained that floors weren't designed for a "specific type" of person in order to avoid cliques. Fostering and focusing on a particular community can have its consequences. In his own article, Hargreaves studied two polarizing communities: The Villages in Florida, where the community is 98.4% white with a median age of 71; and Kiryas Joel, New York—the poorest zip code in the U.S.—where the median age is 13. "There’s a lot of talk right now about building new cities. But there’s surprisingly little attention or respect paid to the people who are actually doing it," he said. On the flip-side, Hargreaves argued: "People are complicated, building for humans is messy business, and the designs that work are often not the designs we want to work." "Our community spaces are intimate and comfortable, and become an extension of your suite, as another space for you to retreat to (by yourself or with friends)," Wilkinson added. "When designing the interiors of the suites, we considered comfort, layout, and convenience. Our members move in with a bag and a toothbrush and can be cooking that evening and crashing on the sofa that night. Our design style is focussed on quality with an eye to creating a relaxing home, but once moved in, members add their own furnishings, art, color, and style." If you do not like your community, those at Common are free to move to other locations and floors when the opportunity arises. Hargreaves, however, said that the main issue was having to turn people away. Developers it seems, are happy too. In June of 2016, Common raised $16 million with significant investment from the real estate community; led by 8VC, participants included Circle Ventures, the technology arm of the Milstein Family, LeFrak, Solon Mack Capital, Ron Burkle’s Inevitable Ventures and Wolfswood Partners. Common residents at 595 Baltic will begin moving in at the start of February. Common isn't, however, the only company vying for a share of the co-living "pie." Micro-apartment with similar amenities and living arrangements are also on the rise.
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Rios Clementi Hale Studios uses nordic detailing for Habitat 6, a new L.A. “small-lot subdivision” development

Los Angeles–based architects Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios), Riley Architects, and Integrated Development recently debuted Habitat 6, a collection of six new single-family homes in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood.

The project is made possible by L.A.’s “small-lot subdivision” ordinance, a special land use maneuver instituted back in 2005 aimed at increasing the availability—and density—of single family housing across the city’s existing neighborhoods by allowing developers to subdivide existing lots into multiple properties to build collections of detached single-family residences. More controversially, the project is also the result of a protracted preservation struggle that resulted in the demolition of the Oswald Bartlett House, designed in 1914 by visionary Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin. Applications for cultural monument status for the home were denied in 2014, paving the way for its demolition and replacement with RCH Studio’s units.

Bob Hale, partner at RCH Studios, described the difference between the design of a traditional single-family residence and a small-lot subdivision project: “The main issue here is that we have a single-family unit that’s part of a multi-family community, so engendering a sense of community in the overall project while maintaining sense of privacy for each of the units was one of the main objectives.”

As with most small-lot subdivision projects, Habitat 6’s site is organized around a central driveway used to access each unit’s two-car garage. In a nod to the normative tract house, each home features a small ground-floor yard. The homes range in size from 1,954 to 2,106 square feet and feature a flexible room on the ground floor, combined living room, kitchen, and dining areas along the second floor and two bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms, on the floor above.

Each home sits on a Douglas Fir wood-clad parking plinth, while the buildings’ exteriors are clad in expanses of white stucco interrupted by vertical bands of floor-to-ceiling punched picture windows. Some of these openings wrap the corners, while others are contained within wood-clad recessed and pop-out volumes. The units’ apertures are positioned such that neighboring homes do not face into one another. Inside, living room areas are designed with 10-foot ceiling heights (generous by Los Angeles standards), and feature clean, white walls accented with raw wood planks. Other interior finishes include marble countertops and backsplashes in the kitchen, and tile and board-formed concrete wall surfaces.

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“Architecture saved my life”: Pablo Escobar’s son is a good architect now

Sebastian Marroquin grew up in Medellin, Colombia, as Juan Pablo Escobar, the son of legendary drug kingpin and leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar. As a kid, Marroquin enjoyed time at “Naples,” a 20-square-kilometer (eight-square-mile) ranch that included swimming pools and a zoo filled with millions of dollars’ worth of exotic animals. “I’ve never been to Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch,” he told The Independent. “But I doubt it had anything on Naples.”  While accompanying his father for years evading the police and rival gangs, young Sebastian saw the perils and pitfalls of the criminal life and has since started a new life as a successful architect. Senior Editor Matt Shaw sat down with Marroquin to discuss his path to architecture, what he learned from his father, and what he hopes to accomplish for Colombia in the future. What do you think of shows like Narcos? I don’t like them. They are telling lies about my whole life. They don’t know anything about us and that’s for sure. They don’t even know who was my father’s favorite soccer team. Let’s focus on architecture. Architecture is more fun. This is the first interview of my life we are talking about architecture and not about my father. How did you get started in architecture? After my father’s death, my mother, my sister and I went to Mozambique at first and the idea was to stay there in Africa but we only stayed for five days. We couldn’t find any place to stay and study and there was no future for us there so then we decided to move to Argentina. I made the decision to be an architect when I was out of jail there. My mother was still in jail, and I was fighting very hard to set her free. I spent too many nights waiting for an answer from the Department of Justice in Argentina, and a lot of time passed and nothing happened, so I started to think about what I’m going to do. That is when I decided to study architecture. I studied at the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Architecture saved my life because it gave me the possibility to believe that even when something is demolished new things can come out of that and architecture really helps to know how to think not only about architecture but also about life. What inspired you to choose architecture? My grandfather on my mother’s side was a woodworker. He made a lot of furniture and he was also a designer. Also on my father’s side, we have a lot of artists. Some of my aunts are really good at painting and making stuff with their hands and I believe that is where, in a way, I found love in design and architecture. It was also because my mother is an interior designer—in the past we had a lot of properties and a lot of buildings and my mother was involved in the design process, and I was always keeping an eye on that. So I liked what I saw. I liked the process of designing and these projects. I found architecture to be a refuge for me in those days that I didn’t have too much to do or think about, because we were waiting for the justice answer. I have really found very good and close friends inside the architectural world. I feel very passionate about…I really enjoy being part of the community. What kind of architectural projects do you do? I have two big mansions designed and built in Colombia, and one in Argentina. These are the places I have been working on. They are already finished. The houses are big, one is around 3,000 square meters (33,000 square feet), and the other is about 1,100 square meters (10,000 square feet). One of them even has a bakery in it. For the first house that I built in Colombia, I didn’t even know who the client was. It was a mystery. There was a request, and they sent me the photographs, the plans, the coordinates, and everything that I needed to design the house. I never went to the place where the house is built. I don’t even know where it exists. When it was complete, they called me and I found out that the owner was one of the guys who, in 1988, put 700 kilos of dynamite in my house. It was a miracle that we survived because I was with my mom and my little sister there. It was the first car bomb in Colombia’s history. So I built the house for the guy who ruined mine. It was a way for them to ask for forgiveness and in a way to understand us. They knew who I was from the beginning. It was weird and it was a clear opportunity and it was clear that a lot of things have changed in Colombia and that is a great example of how things have really changed now. People want to make peace. It affected me in a positive way. In this story in particular, through architecture, I found a way to complete my past. I ended up building a house for them. They gave me also the opportunity to be an architect because if I didn’t have that opportunity I wouldn’t have more photographs to show to other people so they can believe me as an architect. Today, I am designing a free, public wellness center and water therapy facility for a small town in Argentina. The workers and the families from the town were willing to give me a projec...a complex with a lot of pools and water for kids. It’s not a spa just for a few people; it is a big public place. I only did the design for it, however, because I’ve been working on my second book about my childhood and my father, so I had to leave the architecture for a couple of months to deliver this book if possible. How does your father’s legacy affect your career in architecture? Houses are not what I choose to do, but it’s not very common for me to get work as an architect because of my father and things like that. It doesn’t allow me to participate in architecture as much as I want. People know that I have talent as an architect but they want to choose some other guy without my father’s history. So it’s really difficult for me to find a job. We are finally working on a building that will be my first building in Colombia, in Medellin. I have a house here but I don't have a building yet. That’s where I plan to do the next building. In the past, I worked with very well known architects in Argentina. One of them is Roberto Busnelli and the other one is called Daniel Silberfaden. Roberto had a book published that featured his projects, including one that I brought to his office because it was big and he had a big studio that could realize the project. We won the competition and finished the project with the help of a European architect. When the book was published, my name was not on the project. They gave credit to the European architects who worked three days on it but forgot me. So I found out that maybe this is everywhere. It's a shame that people judge me because of my father’s past and not what I do or what I'm capable of. That’s one of the main barriers that I find every day as an architect. I don’t want to be a coke dealer. I know how to be a coke dealer, but I don't want to. I don’t want to be a millionaire again if I have to be paying my father’s debts. I have had the opportunity to pass on that, I don’t want to repeat that story. There is a lot to learn from the past and from my father’s story. Were you around when they were building La Catedral, the prison your father designed for himself? Did you ever see any of the construction of that as a kid and admire it? The construction guys sent my father updates of the construction of the La Catedral in the mail and I would see the men bring in the photographs and videos and instructions. From the beginning, a criminal building his own prison was very awkward because people got upset that it was happening in Colombia. But my father said, “This is a place where I want to be. This is a place where I’m going to be. This is the place where I’m going to be in prison. I’m going to pay for the designs and design how I’m going to escape from my own prison.” I believe that in a way my father was also an architect, he was very clever. He was just an architect for his own convenience. There was a Sunday my father took me to airplane fields and in the middle of the jungle, we were standing on the airfield and he asked me, “where is the airfield?” I couldn’t see it, and he said, “You are standing in it.” I couldn’t see it because I was looking at a house in the middle of the runway and there was no way the plane could land because it would crash against the house. He took a walkie-talkie and told one of his friends to move the house. It was on wheels. When the airplanes from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) were searching with satellites looking for hideouts, they couldn’t find anything because there was a house in the middle of what was a possible airfield. The planes can use it—just move the house. That’s why he was a great architect because when you visited the house, it worked. It had the bathrooms, the shower, everything. If the police went to the house, it would function perfectly. I believe that a lot of things from architecture I learned from my father and especially places to hide. He used architecture to hide. Is that what you do today? A lot of people ask me to do that because Colombia is not a safe country and people don’t trust banks, so every work of architecture I offer the client a possibility of "Do you want to have a secret place in your house like a panic room or something like that?" People say, “Yes, I would love to have the son of Pablo Escobar show us how to hide.” As the son of Pablo Escobar, I know how to hide! Your father built housing for the people living in slums. Is that something that affected the way you think about architecture? Yes, he wanted to make 5,000 units of free housing for the families who were living in a garbage dump in Medellin. In the early 80s, he built almost 1,000 houses and then the government, they were jealous and they seized all the land and stopped the project. That’s one of the reasons why my father started fighting against the establishment. They didn’t want him to help the poor. That encouraged me to think more and try to assist the people or Colombia, the poor people of Colombia. There are a lot of families that live in the country who don’t have lights or water in their houses. It is not about luxury, it is about dignity. I am doing a project to house the poor in Argentina, but I would love to do that in Colombia. What would you like to do next? I would love to something related to Colombia’s nature. We have a tremendous amount of green here in Colombia. We have a lot of jungle and a lot of beautiful places that are rarely seen. I would love to do a hotel that really respects the environment. We have a lot of paradise and I hope we can build some things like that if we have Colombia enjoying peace.
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Obama administration releases “Housing Development Toolkit” to lower barriers to new housing

The White House has published the "Housing Development Toolkit" in a bid to allow cities meet housing demands. The paper derides the current zoning laws and red tape that stand in the way of authorities building housing, thus leading to economic inequality and high rents that take a toll on the U.S. economy. Advocating increased density (which will mean more tall buildings), faster paths to construction, and fewer zoning barriers, the toolkit will not be welcome among NIMBY protestors. However, developers, mayors, and builders may think differently. The paper outlines "actions that states and local jurisdictions have taken to promote healthy, responsive, affordable, high-opportunity housing markets," including:
  • Establishing by-right development
  • Taxing vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers
  • Streamlining or shortening permitting processes and timelines
  • Eliminating off-street parking requirements
  • Allowing accessory dwelling units
  • Establishing density bonuses
  • Enacting high-density and multifamily zoning
  • Employing inclusionary zoning
  • Establishing development tax or value capture incentives
  • Using property tax abatements
The paper also says:
Over the past three decades, local barriers to housing development have intensified, particularly in the high-growth metropolitan areas increasingly fueling the national economy. The accumulation of such barriers—including zoning, other land use regulations, and lengthy development approval processes—has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand. The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions. By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies.
“When unnecessary barriers restrict the supply of housing and costs increase, then workers, particularly lower-income workers who would benefit the most, are less able to move to high-productivity cities,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaking to Politico. “All told, this means slower economic growth.” “It’s important that the president is talking about it,” said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. “Local restrictions on housing supply are a crucial economic issue. I would say it’s one of the top 10.” A link to the toolkit can be found here.
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As housing costs and economic segregation increase, Austin’s granny flats proliferate

Consider the accessory dwelling unit (ADU). It is a structure of many names, including secondary dwelling unit, garage apartment, granny flat, backyard cottage, casita, carriage house—the list goes on. The unit has equally as many uses: rentable occupancy, (secret) Airbnb gem, guesthouse, or extended family annex. Over the past decade, as housing costs have soared in cities like Austin, the casita has become a much-studied and proliferated phenomenon.

The ADU frenzy is not unique to Austin. The format is popular in other cities like Houston, Texas, or Sydney, Australia, which was, as of the end of 2015, churning out a hundred “Fonzie” flats a week. Portland (1,300 as of 2013) and Seattle (1,396 as of 2015) both established city pathways for creating secondary units. Across the border in Vancouver, 35 percent of all single-family residences have one. The back house represents an important option for low-impact densification, as it increases lot inhabitation and generates rental income but, due to its street invisibility, leaves the character of a neighborhood intact.

Austin’s ADU construction is widespread: 750 permits for “secondary apartments” have been issued since 2006, with the annual number of permits for these auxiliary units surpassing those for duplexes since 2014. Still, the structures are limited to multifamily and some single-family zonings, including SF-3, which carries a minimum lot size of 5,750 square feet, a maximum building coverage of 40 percent, and usually requires expensive infrastructural items like a separate water meter.

Austin’s ADU regulations were updated in November 2015, making it easier to build closer to primary structures, on smaller lots, and without parking in central, transit-adjacent areas. The ordinance also prohibited the use of the dwelling as a non-owner occupied short-term rental (STR), and restricted STR usage generally to 30 days per calendar year. Ahead of the new ordinance, local organization Austinites for Urban Rail Action (AURA) “dedicated to a vision of an Austin where everybody is welcome and everybody’s interests matter,” advocated for allowing ADUs everywhere in the city, and circulated an online petition that gathered over 1,000 signatures in support. Its “ADU City” report, released in June 2015, offers policy provisions and case studies in support of ADU growth. Via email, AURA board member Eric Goff stressed the importance of growing the housing supply and simplifying the permitting process. “Rules like unit caps, lot size, Sub Chapter F, FAR, building height, set backs, and others,” he wrote, “consistently make it difficult to add more housing.”

Here, house prices and rental rates continue to climb while income remains stagnant. The ADU, even in limited deployment, becomes useful in gentrifying neighborhoods, as its rental income balances out rising property taxes for families on low or fixed incomes. In a June editorial, city council member for East Austin’s District 3, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, said that he and his wife were only able to remain in their home because they built a secondary unit to supplement their income. These units, when rented at market rates, are largely occupied by younger individuals or couples who can afford to trade space and dollars for location. This doesn’t explicitly offer housing for lower-income renters, but it reduces market competition for cheaper units, allowing those units to be occupied by those who need them most. And it creates a revenue stream for those who are struggling to keep their homes, critical in areas like East Austin, where neighborhoods have lost 34 percent of their homeowners since 2002.

Substantial evidence demonstrates the myriad positive impacts of the ADUs. Their adoption is the goal of the Alley Flat Initiative, a collective effort started in 2005 by the University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, and the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC). The outfit provides resources, including design services, to citizens, neighborhood groups, and nonprofits interested in building ADUs. To date, it has realized five units, with two under construction and about nine in development. In mid-June, it hosted the first-ever Alley Flat Tour, showcasing the five completed units with over one hundred attendees. Nicole Joslin, who recently took over as executive director of ACDDC, said, “the biggest hurdles are access to financing and making the property taxes calibrated to the rent that’s being collected.” For example, an ADU built and rented through the City of Austin’s S.M.A.R.T. (safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, transit oriented) Housing Policy that caps incomes for its renters is not recognized as affordable housing by Travis County and is appraised for market value, instead of the income generated, which is the typical indicator for multi-family property taxes. “Banks don’t know what to do with ADUs,” Joslin continued, noting conflict if the structure increases or decreases property value. Further, local house appraisers struggle with ADUs, sometimes grouping the square footage together with the main house or ignoring the unit altogether. “We’ve overcome a lot of the LDC barriers,” she said. According to Joslin, what is needed now are additional subsidies to lower the cost of construction and, as ADU requirements are relaxed, incentives to retain the primary house. Moving forward, she hopes to continue to build ACDDC’s “capacity to be a resource for their community partners and single-family homeowners who are trying to prevent displacement.”

High-design versions of the granny flat showcase its possibilities for architectural achievement. This year, AIA Austin presented a Design Award to For A Better Architecture (FAB) for its Hillmont Studio, an 850-square-foot back house in the Zilker neighborhood. The unit was also featured on the 2015 AIA Austin Homes Tour, along with another alley flat. FAB cofounder Patrick Ousey, AIA, said the challenge was to create a sense of privacy while still maintaining a connection to the street. The massing is pushed into the lot’s back right corner, and because the spaces “don’t stack exactly one over the other,” the overhanging bedroom hovers over the glassed-in living area and patio. Clad in thin black Hardie siding, the project also includes walnut cabinets, clean detailing, and an interior-exterior concrete wall that was “brought into the budget without increasing overall cost.” This materiality connected the interior to the site walls, tying together the entry movement from the curb all the way back to the ADU. The project cost about $200 per square foot, including landscaping. Ousey reported a normal permitting experience, though the water meter became a problem. Adding an additional meter can cost up to $20,000, a fee that “makes a small project like that not doable.” FAB is at work on another residence with a back house that is similarly sited for privacy. Big or small, the design work “boils down to quality,” Ousey said, and “quality comes at every budget.”

Granny flats occupy the lighter end of the “missing middle” housing density spectrum that is painfully absent in Austin. The ADU joins a larger set of housing solutions in development to keep Austin affordable. In early June, the city unveiled a draft of its first-ever housing plan. The Austin Strategic Housing Plan, available online, offers progressive solutions to make up the current deficit of affordable units by producing 35,000 units for those at 80 percent median family income—$62,250 for a family of four in Travis County this year—and 40,000 market-rate units for a total of 75,000 units in the next decade. The plan provides an arsenal of tactics: Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the expansion of homestead preservation districts, expanded density bonus programs, a strike fund that would be used to purchase and maintain existing multifamily complexes, expanded use of community land trusts (CLTs), renovation of the S.M.A.R.T. Housing program, and many other bold ideas. Even without policies available to other cities—Texas is the now only state where inclusionary zoning is illegal—these tools forecast admirable gains.

City of Austin senior planner Jonathan Tomko said that there is “two-pronged” reform at work, on both the policy and code fronts, and that maximum progress happens when the two work together in tight coordination. The policy battle is well underway, as is CodeNEXT, the effort to fully rewrite Austin’s Land Development Code. CodeNEXT is led by its main consultant, Opticos Design, a Berkeley-based outfit focused on walkable urban living and the “missing middle” housing movement. The city now estimates draft code to be delivered for public review in January 2017, and has released two of four prescription papers that preview strategies. The Household Affordability document, delivered in April, lays out the changes that are coming soon.

Some believe that the promised results of the CodeNEXT rewrite may not be enough to reverse Austin’s economic segregation, now rated at the worst in the nation. John Henneberger, winner of a 2014 MacArthur Genius grant and co-director of the Texas Housers nonprofit, wrote in a May 2016 blog post that “Austin must promote, as a public policy, economic and racial diversity across all neighborhoods and should reject the ghettoization of affordable housing into city-designated districts,” referencing the strategy to concentrate investment at transit-rich nodes. Speaking to the AIA Austin audience in June, Henneberger emphasized the rights of low-income citizens and argued for reform at the neighborhood level, including leveraging solutions like community development corporations (CDCs) to create affordable housing. Such activism remains important work as inequitable policies persist—evidenced by a 2015 Texas bill that allows landlords to discriminate against renters who use housing vouchers. Contemporary studies show that “laws aimed at things like ‘maintaining neighborhood character’ or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities,” according to The New York Times. Affordability is increasingly the central topic at city council: An additional fair housing initiative was approved in June, providing yet another referendum in support of consequential action.

This action is needed if Austin is to realize the big changes envisioned in the Housing Plan and CodeNEXT rewrite. Thankfully, many individuals and groups are up to the challenge. At the Alley Flat Initiative, Joslin is focusing future work on the financing of ADUs, and on neighborhood-scale sustainability efforts “more and more—this isn’t about architecture only.”

For Tomko, the goal is to have the housing plan approved by the end of 2016 as an appendix to Imagine Austin, the city’s comprehensive plan: “all types of housing for all types of people in all parts of town.”

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“House Housing” exhibit miserably fails at addressing Los Angeles’s housing crisis

Billed as part of an ongoing, multiyear, multivenue, and multiauthor “19 episode” blockbuster research project conducted by the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate landed in L.A., a city facing an unprecedented housing shortage and a parallel homelessness crisis, with an unfortunate but predictable thud.

An impenetrable and arcane little book, The Art of Inequality, along with a well-organized and intelligent panel discussion, accompanied House Housing’s Los Angeles’s appearance. The panel was moderated by the Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, and included a witty, knowledgeable, and acerbic group: L.A. architect Julie Eizenberg, and San Diego–based academics Juliana Maxim and Andrew Wiese. The panel, as it turned out, was better than the show and the book combined because it was focused, relevant, and brief. If there is one broad criticism I might offer here it is this: The never-ending parade of traveling shows, publications, events, social media feeds, and inscrutable websites that now stand in for academic research and dedicated curatorial work has tanked.

And sadly, this effort seems to highlight the entire dilemma. What started in the mid-to-late ’90s with the Harvard “Project on the City” and the Architectural Association of London’s Design Research Laboratory as an attempt to realign architecture with reality, has now descended into a farce where loosely appropriated data and reality samples are presented as research—and petulant attacks on practitioners as political action. Forced to absorb a series of half-baked guest essays, useless charts, graphs, meanly redrawn housing unit plans (what a waste of some poor grad student’s time), and attacks on well-known octogenarian architects, the audience must somehow surmise that this is meaningful academic work. How dumb do the curators think the audience, professional or otherwise, really is? Is there an even an audience for this sort of work? Do the authors care if no one shows up?

Despite its appropriate setting, House Housing perfectly illustrates all that is wrong with these sort of airless engagements with the realpolitik of contemporary city-making by architects today. If the aim of the exhibition was to invite “scholars and practitioners to discuss how we might reframe our understanding of the relationships among architecture, housing, and real estate in light of the inequalities they both produce and reflect,” the net effect is a misreading of the jujitsu-hold many practitioners find themselves in as they attempt to negotiate the market forces that have been at work reformatting our cities since at least the dawn of the Reagan-Thatcher era. House Housing parades out real-estate and architectural-atrocity exhibits, “from architect-designed houses to prefabricated apartment blocks to suburban gated communities,” presented less as a coherent analysis of the tragedy of housing inequality than as some sort of evidence of the intrepid academic’s adventures in the “real city” wherein the desire, ambition, and greed of the inevitably evil developer class squash the dreams of the proletariat. Architecture, predictably, plays the role of the villain’s guileless and dim-witted sidekick. Architects are caricatured as willing handmaidens to the construction of socioeconomic injustice. “More than just a building type or a market sector,” the editors argue, “housing is a primary architectural act—where architecture is understood as that which makes real estate real.”

An easy target like Frank Gehry ends up demonized for being part of market-rate development in New York and the author of an oddball suburban house renovation, while Bernard Tschumi, formerly a radical leftist and current dean emeritus at the Columbia GSAPP, gets no censure for the Blue Condominium housing tower on the Lower East Side—average sale price, $1.5 million as recently noted by Alex Cocotas in the JacobinOne wonders, here, if the author-editors are even aware of their own biases.

It has to be stated that the entire effort is also very condescending. Once again we are offered that late-20th-century academic cliché, Institutional Critique, as an innovative model of cultural production. Instead of a more genuine or provocative proposal for redefining the role of architecture in city-making we are served up, yet again, the now-zombified Standard Marxist Critique of State Capitalism. As neoliberalism accelerates the transfer of urban control from a near-dead public sector to the hyper-advanced private sector, the best the authors can suggest is that if “architecture is imagined first and foremost as an investment…thinking and making it otherwise remains a fundamental, unmet challenge for our times.” The political ambivalence of this statement reveals that the very academic tools used to draw attention to social inequality and architecture’s role in its production fall far short of the potentially radical and ferocious work that will need to be done by architects on their discipline and the professional organizations, academies, museums, and research bodies that support them in order to change the situation. Nothing less than total outrage and focused action will address the social violence of radicalized poverty and its caustic effects on the 21st-century city. 

What is required now of architecture, especially academic architecture, is not another retreading of the usual antagonisms. Resipsa loquitur: The boring and never-ending Facebook-adjacent arguments around this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale are primarily about mindless parametricist fundamentalism versus patronizing do-gooder fundamentalism. Who cares? Only the difficulty of real adversarial engagement, not fantasy critiques launched from the ivory tower at the profession, will further the conversation. Architecture will not advance one step as either a symbol of the one percent or as a tool of the other 99 percent; it must adapt and grow beyond its currently servile relationships with capital and/or community. What is required is nothing less than a wholesale attack on the discipline’s stagnating orthodoxies, left and right.

House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate ran from April 9 – May 8, 2016 at the MAK Center at the Schindler House.

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The American Institute of Architects has chosen ten firms for the 2016 Housing Awards

Eligible projects needed to have been completed after January 1, 2011. They could be renovations or new buildings of any size, budget, or style, including mixed-use projects. Awards are be divided into four categories: One/Two Family Custom Housing; One/Two Family Production Housing (none selected this year); Multifamily Housing and Special Housing. This years jury included Jamie Blosser, AIA (Chair), Atkin Olshin Schade Architects; Ariella Cohen, Editor-in-Chief of Next City; Kevin Harris, FAIA of Kevin Harris Architect, LLC; David Lee, FAIA of Stull and Lee, Inc. and Suman Sorg, FAIA of Sorg & Associates, P.C.

One/Two Family Custom Housing

This award recognizes work for custom and remodelled homes. Hog Pen Creek Retreat; Austin, Texas - Lake|Flato Architects "Towering heritage oak trees, a steeply sloping site and aggressive setbacks from the water created challenging site constraints thoughtfully answered by the home's L-shaped footprint and orientation. A long exterior boardwalk connects a series of structures that stair step down the hillside, crossing a 75-foot lap pool and terminating at a screened pavilion by the water’s edge." Jury Comments: "Nicely detailed, fully cohesive design strategy with water and nature being primary influences. This feels very place based and perfect for its setting in Texas. Artful composition of masses. Delicate placement amidst mature landscape and Creek waterfront views." Independence Pass Residence; Aspen, CO - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson "The house stretches between two knolls, forming a threshold to the views. A series of textured Vals quartzite walls extend into the landscape on either side, giving weight to the lower level. The upper volume is a glass and wood pavilion with a roof that floats on slender stainless steel columns. Its position on the site, linear shape and the use of glass, steel and quartzite gives great strength to this mountain home." Jury Comments: "Beautiful use of stone and lines to frame views of conservation land. A stunning house. A simply spectacular house totally attuned to its Aspen setting. The views are spectacular at every angle." Island Residence; Honolulu - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson "Situated on the Ocean’s coastline at a corner of an ancient fishpond, this private residence reflects the culture of the Hawaiian Islands by embracing its lush surroundings. The house has diverse outdoor spaces and a highly transparent envelope with intimate views of the landscape, the coastal reef and the surf. Jury Comments: "Excellent place based design marrying modernism with hand crafted details. An exciting take on a vernacular, providing a real warmth and openness. Lovely cultural references to both Hawaii and Japan." Newberg Residence; Newberg, OR - Cutler Anderson Architects "This single-family 1,440 square foot residence and 550 sf guest house was designed so the owners can connect with the wild creatures that come to water regularly. The design attempts to make the pond and residence a single entity via entry through the forest, over a bridge from the north end of the pond." Jury Comments: "Elegant design demonstrates joy of living with nature - not requiring a grand vista or dramatic landscape. Thoughtful siting as bridge over pond, elegantly detailed. Simple, clean proportions, warm wood interiors." Oak Ridge House; Jackson, MS - Duvall Decker Architects, P.A. "This house, located in Jackson, Mississippi, is designed as a scaffold for the experience of moving between these conditions, to inhabit and interpret each of them over time. It is shaped to draw the outdoors in, lure the family out, and provide an environmentally rich palette of spaces to accommodate the process of habitation." Jury Comments: "Understated, well designed home. Multiple functions of builtins nice feature, as is choice of materials - slate and pecan. A really, really nice L shaped residence."

Multifamily Living

This award looks at the integration of the building(s) into their site, using both open and recreational space, transportation options and features that contribute to liveable communities. Both high- and low-density projects were considered. 1180 Fourth Street; San Francisco - Mithun | Solomon (initiated as WRT/Solomon E.T.C.)* "The project occupies a full city block with a multi-level courtyard accessing tenant services, daycare, community gardens and common spaces. A generous community room serves the larger neighborhood as well as the project. Amenities emphasize fitness, nutrition, education and community life. It houses 150 low income and formerly homeless households, plus 10,000 square feet of restaurants and retail." *Associate Design Architect: Kennerly Architecture & Planning Jury Comments: "This is a really cool project! It does some really neat things architecturally and is rich in many ways. San Francisco sorely needs affordable housing and this is a perfect location re: transit and accessibility. To live here you have to won the housing lottery!" Cloverdale749; Los Angeles - Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects "Cloverdale749’s integration with its surroundings is upheld by carefully considered deck, window, and walkway placements wherein LOHA established a veil of transformable layers to promote a hybridized relationship between private and public spheres. Incorporating passively sustainable elements in the exterior cladding helps reduce the solar heat load on the building and its energy expenditures for cooling." Jury Comments: "Nice understated design. Rigorously developed and is an upgrade in its context. Very well thought out, detailed, and elegant resolution from a simple, rather banal ships container reference."

Specialized Housing

The Special Housing award acknowledges design that meets the unique needs of other specialized housing types, including housign for the disabled, residential rehabilitation programs, domestic violence shelters, and among others. Commonwealth Honors College, University of Massachusetts; Amherst, MA - William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. "The Commonwealth Honors College Community brings together all classes of students in a mix of unit types that provides 1,500 beds in seven new buildings. The buildings are organized around intimately scaled courtyards that step down the hillside, creating the sense of an academic village for the University of Massachusetts Honors Community." Jury Comments: "Rich mixture of campus buildings resembling an Italian hill town. So impressed that at every scale it was well thought out and integrated. They spent so much time on careful spaces for social engagement." Homeless Veterans Transitional Housing, VA Campus; Los Angeles - LEO A DALY "As part of the Nation’s vanguard effort to house its homeless veterans, the design team of Leo A Daly took a historic structure on the VA’s West Los Angeles medical campus, a building that had been vacant for decades, and repurposed it, turning Building 209—a 1940’s-era clinic building—into an inviting new home for veterans. In the process, the building’s exterior, designated a historic landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, was fully restored, and the former mental hospital transformed into modern therapeutic housing for 65 formerly homeless veterans." Jury Comments: "Spaces, landscaping, and rooms afford a believable sense of importance of and gratitude towards the residents. Respectful of the original building, and respectful of the occupants on the inside. This carefully considered the specific building users and their particular therapeutic needs." Whitetail Woods Regional Park Camper Cabins; Farmington, MN - HGA "Nestled into the hillside of a new regional park, three camper cabins riff on the idea of a tree house entered from a bridge at the crest of a hill. Built on concrete piers to minimize environmental impact, the 227-square-foot cabins with an 80-square-foot deck feature red cedar glulam chassis, cedar and pine framing, and red cedar cladding. Two full-size bunks, dining and sitting areas accommodate four individuals, with a sleeper sofa and folding seating accommodating up to two more. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors frame views of the forest." Jury Comments: "Beautiful simplicity. Colors, materials, and textures reinforce the undisturbed natural habitat. The light footprint is lovely and the low impact on the environment is wonderful."
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Bjarke Ingels designs a pixelated mountain of residences in Toronto

Just when it seemed that the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) had enough projects on its plate, it looks like the firm's gone back to the building buffet for a residential complex in Toronto. Backed by developers Westbank and Allied REIT, the as-yet-unnamed project calls for more than 500 apartments spread over 725,000 square feet. The building consists of 12-foot-by-12-foot "pixilated patterns"—read "cubes"—that are stacked and rotated at 45-degree angles. From straight above, the complex resembles a plain rectangle with a public courtyard in the middle. In reality, the apartments stack and mass to form five peaks ranging in height from 15 to 17 stories, marking a return to Ingels's favored mountain typology. The block-wide building will lift up from the sidewalk at three points to allow pedestrians to travel between blocks. Toronto–based landscape architects PUBLIC WORK are collaborating with BIG on the project. There will be around 13 different floor plans, with a private terrace for each apartment. Ingels, the firm's founder and principal, explained the design to The Globe and Mail, likening the scale of the project to "a bundle of homes rather than a big new building.” The effect, Ingels explained, is similar to “a Mediterranean mountain town.” Canadians don't need to look far for another design precedent. It's difficult not to draw a comparison between BIG's proposal and Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie's iconic Montreal apartment complex.
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This 3D topographic installation raises questions on the high cost of housing in New York City

Besides the overcrowded L and the overabundance of Starbucks/Chase Banks, one of New York's favorite things to kvetch about is the rent: it's too damn high. Now, through Wage Island, an installation created by a New York–based interaction and information designer, it's possible to see in 3D how much housing really costs in this city. https://vimeo.com/138549946 Ekene Ijeoma's Wage Islands sprang from the designer's conversations with Fast Food Forward, a labor advocacy organization that's pushing for a higher minimum wage for fast food workers. Compelled by the group's commentary on how difficult it is for minimum wage workers to pay for housing, Ijeoma put his designer's training to work, correlating median monthly housing costs of each neighborhood with the amount one would have to earn to afford to live there. "This created a poetic way of creating empathy between minimum wage workers and citizens they serve; making the issue about everyone," Ijeoma mused. He collaborated with a team of six to execute the GIS modeling of New York City, design and build the model, and program the Arduino board that controls the islands' topography. Wage Islands was commissioned for Measure, the Storefront for Art and Architecture’s exhibition that ran from August 14 through September 19, 2015. The map's elevations are comprised of over 500 pieces of laser-cut acrylic. Elevations are derived from median monthly housing costs in different neighborhoods, with $271 on the low end and $4,001 at the top. The islands are situated in a tray filled with blue-black water. The user can adjust the amount of water in the box by scaling wages up from the city minimum of $8.75 per hour to a high of $77 per hour. The tallest peaks represent the most affordable neighborhoods; those who make at least $77 per hour have the luxury to choose Manhattan's tony Tribeca or Brooklyn's Brownsville, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Precision, and reflection on the real world factors that go into determining affordability, is scuttled in favor of highly evocative representation. New York is a renter's city: Less than a third of residents own their own homes. When asked what data was used to gauge median rents, Ijeoma explained that "this was more about looking at New York City together and not separating the different neighborhoods and people from the larger issue." He used the American Community Survey's (ACS) median monthly housing costs as a stand-in for median rents, although ACS data covers both housing costs incurred by homeowners and renters. 69 percent of New Yorkers rent, not own, so the choice to rely on this ACS dataset is unclear. The American Housing Survey, however, has fine-grained data on renters for major metro areas.)

Like Fannie and Freddie, Ijeoma pegs affordability to spending no more than 30 percent of one's income on housing. That's sensible advice, but more than half of New Yorkers are, by this measure, rent burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.

Affordability guidelines are generally broken down by the number of bedrooms per unit as a proxy for household size. Instead of looking at average rents across neighborhoods, or rents for units of one particular size, Ijeoma dismissed those nuances as irrelevant for this project, as "[the data] would've more or less looked the same because of the geo-spatial interpolation and translation into 3D."

Currently, Ijeoma is doing a stint at Orbital as a designer-in-residence, where he's working on a mapping project that covers a broader swath of America, as well as a project that addresses social media–engaged phone-zombies who blunder through the streets of New York.