Posts tagged with "Housing":

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Ohkay Owingeh tribe restores a historic central village in New Mexico

Thirty miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Owe’neh Bupingeh, the central village of Ohkay Owingeh, has been the home of one of the 19 federally recognized Pueblo tribes in New Mexico for over 700 years. The village is organized around a series of plazas where hundreds of homes once stood. Although Owe’neh Bupingeh remains a vital cultural center of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, only a small fraction of these homes survive today. Also containing important historic relics such as ancient homes and a 19th-century chapel, the area was in dire need of preservation and repair work to ensure deteriorated homes became inhabitable again. 

A plan by Philadelphia and Santa Fe–based Atkin Olshin Schade Architects simultaneously restores the area to its original form while providing quality housing within existing and new buildings. Based on the preservation values of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, the plan was developed in close collaboration with tribal elders—oral histories played a major role in conceiving the future of the space. Thirty-four homes have been renewed so far as part of the ongoing project with grant funding from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

The preservation work is as much a community education effort as it is an architectural project. Training Pueblo students and residents in GIS and adobe construction ensures the longevity of Owe'neh Bupingeh while bringing quality homes and spaces to the local residents.
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Alaska’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center is rethinking how the Circumpolar North builds

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) describes itself as “an industry-based, nonprofit corporation created to facilitate the development, use, and testing of energy-efficient, durable, healthy, and cost-effective building technologies for people living in circumpolar regions around the globe.”

Aaron Cooke, the architect who leads the Sustainable Northern Communities Program at the CCHRC in Fairbanks, Alaska, is at the front lines of helping northern communities in developing solutions for homes in extremely cold climates. Cooke spoke to Matt Shaw, AN’s executive editor, and Stephen Zacks, AN contributor, about technologies and prototypes being developed to conserve energy, recycle heat, rethink building envelope systems, stabilize homes situated on melting permafrost, and ensure supplies of fresh air. As the communities of the Circumpolar North adapt to climate change, their solutions hold lessons for carbon-neutral designs in the temperate zone while providing a pointed message about post-colonial regional design.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What are the main areas of research for the CCHRC?

Aaron Cooke: Our largest program is the Building Science Research program, which deals with testing and researching the suitability of different techniques and products for the physical environment and cultural environment of circumpolar peoples. We also have a design program, the Sustainable Northern Communities program, that aims to take some of the building research and find real-world or holistic building applications. We design prototype homes that we test with occupants living in them for various periods of time. Then we have a smaller program called Policy Research, which aims to aid policymakers and governmental entities but also looks at the code amendments that northern communities need to consider. Most northern places have small populations, so they don’t have their own building code; they’ll take a building code from the temperate region and add amendments specific to the physical environment in Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Between those three programs, we try and stay at the forefront of regional design for the Arctic and subarctic climates.

Can you talk about the challenges of the extreme terrain and cold weather in the north?

The north has two primary challenges that it has to face constantly. We have an antagonistic physical environment that is very hard on buildings. Oversights in detailing or failures to plan small appropriate details in construction do not fail small in the Arctic: They always fail big, because it’s a zero-forgiveness environment. But in addition to our physical environment, the north has always faced a postcolonial problem. Every Arctic country in the world is governed by a capital city that is not in the Arctic—and that goes for Russia, Canada, Alaska, everywhere. So, there’s underrepresentation in the design field, and in policy and building code. Importing technologies, assumptions, and best practices from the temperate zone without thorough vetting causes us as many problems as our physical environment does. The idea of what a home—or a public building or a school—looks like and how it should behave is often based on temperate models, and we then have to retroactively make them Arctic. There have been famous attempts to make an architecture for the north, but there's been very little impetus to create an Arctic architecture from the north. It generally comes at us from the south, and we have to manage it somehow.

Are there things that you’re learning from traditional methods of conserving heat that go into your research, or is the group mainly developing new technologies?

It’s generally developing new technologies, but it’s also giving a platform for traditional wisdom, because people have lived here for a very, very long time and have come up with innovative ways of building in the north. You’re trying to make traditional communities aware of new technologies applicable in a harsh physical environment, and then you’re also trying to be receptive and a good listener when people are saying what has worked or hasn’t worked in the past. As an example, we did an eight-sided house for a community in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska called Quinhagak. It was a very windy place: Although it only got about 24 inches of snow a year, the snow would drift in houses to the point where you couldn’t get out of the windows or in the door. We did some pretty complex wind drift studies, and we came up with this eight-sided house. We went out to the community to see if they were interested in building a prototype there to test it, and they were. We gave an analysis of winds, vector diagrams of how we thought the snow would self-scour away from the house, and I remember being in the community building and saying, “This is the shape I think that would be best for this region.” Someone stands up and said, “We used to make our houses that shape, we used to know that. It’s only in the last 50 years that we’ve started making square boxes, and [snowbanks] started drifting in.” Some things we’re discovering, and some things we’re remembering, I guess.

What are some of the new technologies you’re developing or working with? Are they materials-based or are they wall sections?

I’d say a very large bulk of our work could be divided into three fields. One is envelope design: We need warmer envelopes, and we need materials that go together in wall design differently. Arctic villages often don’t have heavy equipment, so you’re trying to find materials that can be constructed without cranes or trucks, or any of the things that we assume are going to be on job site. We also are looking at how things are transported when we choose our construction materials. When I was in architecture school, I never once had a class on sourcing materials. We assumed that the materials are going to show up at site; we’d choose them based on how they perform once they’re assembled.

In our region, about 40 percent of overall construction costs are in shipping. But we don’t take a course on how to choose materials based on how they ship, and the shipping companies are smart: The barge season is short, the air strips are short, and if something’s heavier than it is big, they charge you by weight. If something’s bigger than it’s heavy, they charge you by volume. If the barge gets delayed, you don’t build next month, you build next year. Most of our economics can be boiled down to how we get our materials to site and how we select them based on their appropriateness for shipping. In envelope design, a big part is to create a materials package that can be shipped and easily brought to a very remote location.

Besides envelope design, we work quite a bit with foundation design. The Arctic is one of the fastest changing regions in the world. There are a million models, and they all contradict each other, but one thing is for sure: We have a lot less sea ice than we used to, and that is creating unprecedented coastal erosion that is forcing our communities to relocate. Land that has been permanently frozen since the last ice age is melting in very unpredictable ways and causing massive foundation failures. It’s not hypothetically happening sometime in the future, it’s happening to us now. Those are very expensive problems, so foundation design is something that we’ve been working quite hard on. One of the easiest things to get funding for is how to design foundations for the degradation of permafrost. The third tier of what we research is mechanical systems: how to provide heat. We’re always looking for heat that is more efficient, heat that is more clean and reliable. That’ll never go away, no matter how much global warming occurs. The Arctic will always be one of the colder places on the earth, and we’ll always have a winter in which we need heat somehow.

Are there solutions that you’ve come up with, or ideal systems that you’ve developed?

A paradigm shift has happened in foundation design in the Arctic during my short career. When I was studying to be a specialist in northern design, the basic rules for permafrost foundation design were if the ground’s frozen, keep it frozen, and if it’s thawed, keep it thawed—that’s foundation design in the Arctic. In the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, when they were putting more modern and larger buildings in the Arctic, as we were urbanizing, most of the building failures were because the building was leaking heat into the ground around the base of the foundation and melting the permafrost, creating a sinkhole. The building then had this foundation failure, and that was why most of the emphasis was on keeping the ground frozen through installation. But now the permafrost is melting even if we do everything right. Even if we perfectly thermally isolate our building from the thermal regime of the soil, it’s still melting out from under us in many circumstances, and the circumstances aren’t something that we’re able to easily predict. Since the research center is focused mostly around housing, we want adjustable foundations that the occupant can adjust without specialized knowledge—very simple mechanical foundations that can be leveled as the ground drops away or floods or heaves.

What does that look like?

It can be as complex as a kind of a Buckminster Fuller–style space frame, where you’ve got triangulated points that can be hand ratcheted, or it can be as simple as car jacks on top of columns that are pounded into the ground. We’ve tested no fewer than a dozen types of adjustable foundations. We’re mostly looking at threaded rod and things that can be jacked with a cheater bar in a circular motion or with what’s basically a glorified wrench. We haven’t given up on trying to keep the ground frozen. For larger buildings, we’re still using thermosiphons and technology that takes advantage of state change and chemicals that have a boiling point around 32 degrees Fahrenheit so that they can move heat away from the ground. We’re also looking at ground source heat pumps—or geothermal, as it’s commonly called in the Lower 48—to move heat from the ground to the house for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

What does fieldwork look like? Is it mostly working with communities, or testing experiments?

It’s both. Almost every year we’re building a prototype home somewhere with a local construction force. We train the local carpenters on new construction techniques. Living in an experimental house means there needs to be quite a bit of follow-up. We try to make a good, close relationship with the occupants so when there are problems with technology, they can call us, and we can get on a plane and head out there. I always require a resident of the experimental home to be on the crew, so that they fully understand the systems that are different than the rest of the houses in the village. That way, we have an above-average success rate with new technology acceptance and more pride in the construction. It’s like Habitat for Humanity for building scientists.

What are the main differences between the prototypes and traditional buildings?

The prototypes always have an envelope that we’re testing that’s different than a two-by-six wall or a structural insulated panel, which are the two most common types of walls out there already. They always have a foundation type that we’re trying to test, whenever we know that the ground is going to be volatile. We’re also looking for new mechanical systems, because rural Alaska is by and large an economically depressed region. There are large rates of poverty and overcrowding. We’re always trying to lower the heating bill and create efficient mechanical systems and healthy indoor air quality, while lowering the amount people have to pay for fuel.

Are you going out to sites and living in extreme conditions yourself?

Oftentimes when we’re building a house in the summer season, and we’re in a village that’s small enough that there’s no real lodging, we’re just sleeping on the gym floor at the school while school is out and building with the local crew. This summer, we oversaw the building of 13 homes for a community that’s relocating entirely because their original community site’s falling into the ocean now that there’s no sea ice anymore. The fall storms have been eating about 80 feet of shoreline a year, and they’re being forced to relocate the entire community. In that case, when we were building the first prototype home over there at the new community site, there was nothing there. We were just basically camping and getting our water and dealing with our own waste, and trying to stay warm through the season. Sometimes it’s a very remote field camp, and then other times it’s just hanging out at the school at night.

Is there an ideal wall section that you’ve developed at this point—or if not, what are a few examples of improvements?

One thing that almost all Arctic and northern walls need to have in common that makes construction more challenging is you absolutely need a complete thermal break in the walls. That flies in the face of every stud wall we’ve ever built. Generally, a stud wall has a structured component, and then in between the structural components is insulation. But that means, of course, that the structure is leaking heat. At the inside, the two-by-fours are in the warm; at the outside, the two-by-fours are in the cold. That might get you through the winter in the temperate zone, but it absolutely doesn’t work in the Arctic. We’re always trying to make sure that nothing that touches the inside of the thermal envelope is also touching the outside of the thermal envelope. We’ve done walls where we’ve used two-by-four studs and then had a gusset plate made of something like PVC or OSB that holds the cladding up, and then we fill it with something so that the stud doesn’t reach all the way through the thick wall. We were looking at spray-applied polyurethane for a while; you can spray past the stud and make this adobe kind of shape as a way to avoid thermal bridging of materials. The double-wall that could all go up at once added efficiencies to the framing of thick-walled structures. We’ve also looked at an older Canadian technique, recently updated, which involves reframing a two-by-four wall, sheeting the entire outside of the wall in rigid installation, and lapping the joints, not allowing any of the framing to touch the outside of the wall. This is called the REMOTE wall technique, and it would be a good fit for temperate regions with hard winters too.

What are the main challenges to energy-efficient retrofits of existing buildings?

The retrofits are a large part of our work. When you create a giant impermeable coat over your old building, the first thing that almost always happens is your indoor air quality suffers. When we do retrofits today, we’re always trying to approach indoor air environment and thermal comfort at the same time, because the understanding now is that a lot of times when you add R-value to a wall, you’re tightening the house, and you’re going to have to come up with a mechanical solution to address ventilation and fresh air.

Are heat-recovery ventilation technologies a method for bringing in fresh air and ventilating moisture without losing heat in the process?

Certainly there should be no such thing as waste heat in a place this cold, and heat recovery ventilators have been one of the technologies that have made the most progress in the last ten or 15 years.

What is a heat-recovery ventilator, exactly?

It is a method of solving the problem of fresh air being colder. You’re in a house, it’s very cold outside—say it’s 30 degrees below zero outside—and you don’t want to open your windows. You want to keep all the heat that you possibly can in your building. What that means is the carbon dioxide goes up, and anything your furniture is off-gassing becomes more concentrated. You’re not getting the air changes that you need to be a healthy human when you’re scared of the cold air coming into the house.

There’s a branch of mechanical engineering that is concerned with taking your wonderfully warm but dangerously dirty indoor air and allowing the wonderfully clean but dangerously cold outdoor air to rob the heat from it without mixing with it. That’s the question: How do we steal heat from our used air and then get it out of the house so that we can get fresh, clean air inside, but have it be warm enough that people will use that system?

The prototype in Anaktuvuk Pass looks strikingly different than other approaches. Is there a break from the past that you’re exploring, or is there a radically new wall section that you’re trying out there?

It was a wall section that we had not tried before. Anaktuvuk Pass is fly-in only. They have no roads or barge delivery. Construction costs are extremely, prohibitively expensive there. We had been working with a spray-applied polyurethane applicator to see if we could create a wall that was a two-by-four steel structure that would be built inside out. We put the interior sheeting on the stud, and then we’d spray foam out and keep spraying past the foam to create that thermal break. The look that you see there—they’re a kind of dumpling, adobe look—is all based on the thermal requirements. It’s pretty far north. The other thing is that the residents there wanted to try a building where the foundation was on the ground. We use that polyurethane foam to create a raft, and the raft basically floats on the permafrost and bridges it if any movement occurs. The spray foam comes in barrels and expands to 30 times its size when it comes out of the gun. We can fit the barrels on the plane, and we can fit a lot more R-value per cubic foot on that plane because it’s going to expand once it gets to the site.

Can you talk about any problems that you might anticipate in the crafting of policy around the Green New Deal mandates meant for temperate regions that could have a potentially harmful effect on you?

Ten or 15 years ago, there were a lot of adaptations that needed to be made for, say, a LEED system when it finally came north. The research center tries to incorporate environmentally conscious building practices into everything we do—we’re the farthest north LEED Platinum building in the world. There are certainly things that don’t apply: There was a time when permafrost was considered a wetland by professionals from the temperate zone, and in the south, you can’t build on a wetland. Here that would mean you couldn’t build on 70 percent of Alaskan soils—think about a land area bigger than the state of Texas that you’re not allowed to build anything in. Simple things like that. The other thing is the passive house ideal: Getting to 90 percent off fossil fuels in the Arctic is possible, but for the last 10 percent, the returns are just not there. Ninety percent has to be good enough, and then we have to realize that sometimes our heating is going to have to come from somewhere else.

For all the theories of architecture and design, and all the isms out there—Classicism and deconstructionism, and all the isms that exist—I believe in regionalism in architecture because I live in a place where it’s necessary. Regionalist architecture manifests itself when and where it’s most necessary. It’s no mistake that it tends to be in places like deserts and the Arctic, places where if you ignore regional inputs to design, you ignore them at your peril. Your building will fail.

In your collaboration with the Royal Danish Academy, how did their experience in extreme environments and yours overlap or inform each other?

I try to work in a pan-Arctic sense because we are all trying to solve similar, difficult design problems, but we’re doing it alone because the polar region is spread-out with a lot of different governments involved. The centers of design learning are also very far from us. There is no accredited degree in architecture north of 60 degrees latitude in North America. You’ve got to go south to get your degree, and then come north and unlearn quite a bit of what you learned in school. The Royal Danish Academy’s Architecture and Extreme Environments program recognizes this, and it does a very good job of engaging underrepresented regions in design discourse.

I can remember taking my first construction methodology course while I was getting a master’s degree in Ohio, and we were talking about foundation design, and the professor—who was a very good professor, a good architect—was teaching us about how to get our foundations below the frost line. It was my first year of school, and I asked, “What do we do when we can’t get below the frost line?” He said, “Well, don’t build there. That’s a bad site.”

So, we have this familiar problem. We want to engage universities in our design growth. We want young, smart people to care about this place and move here or return here and practice architecture here. But again: Every university that is interested in saving the Arctic is located outside the Arctic, and this is a textbook postcolonial problem, right? We get approached by universities all the time; it’s very in vogue right now to save the Arctic. The icecaps are melting, polar bears are going extinct—there are plenty of reasons that Lower-48 universities are suddenly interested in us, and we need them. We need the attention of the young designers who want to solve some of the difficult problems we have. But the question is always, are you willing to send your studio here, or are you going to try and solve the problem from South Florida?

University architecture programs, from our small rural perspective, bring a lot of resources. The unspoken worry in Alaska is that we are very far from the rest of the world. A lot of disaster relief funding is federal. It’s been undeniably challenging that we’re the first part of the world to be dealing with these massive community shifts due to climate change, but it’s also good to be at the beginning of the process. The instant the rest of the population has to deal with it, too, there’s not going to be any money left to move tiny little Alaskan villages. Once New Orleans and San Francisco and Manhattan have a climate change problem, that’s the end of our help. We’re trying to figure out how to handle these moves now, and what we’re going to do when the resources to handle them get diverted to larger population centers. That’s the Arctic problem.

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Squamish Nation approves $3 billion housing development in Vancouver

The Squamish First Nation’s plans to build a 6,000-unit residential development in Vancouver has taken a major step forward as the community voted in favor of the Revery Architecture-designed project on December 10. Eighty-seven percent of members voted in support of construction, which will be made possible through a 50-50 partnership with the developer Westbank.  Last Thursday, new renderings of the $3-billion, 11-tower development were published by The Daily Hive and they illustrate just how radically the project would transform the city’s Kitsilano neighborhood. Located on the reserve lands at Sen̓áḵw, the project will be Canada’s largest development on First Nations land. Because of this location, the city of Vancouver will have no ability to regulate what is built; however, this doesn’t mean that the Squamish Planning Group won’t work closely with the city on the vision for the site.  In 2014, the City of Vancouver was designated as a City of Reconciliation and outlined goals to “form a sustained relationship, mutual respect, and understanding with local First Nations and the Urban Indigenous community,” as well as “promote Indigenous peoples arts, culture, and awareness.” This project is just one example of these values being put into action. “It’s a change for us, but we deserve it,” Chief Janice George told CBC. “We deserve to benefit from this land, just like everybody else in Vancouver.”  The 11.7-acre development will be situated near the foot of the Burrard Bridge on a 500-acre parcel of land and will transform the existing neighborhood into a dense urban center. Out of the 11 towers, the tallest is expected to reach 56 stories. Between 70-and-90 percent of the units will be designated as market rental units and the rest will be leased as condominiums.  “The Squamish Nation is thrilled with the outcome of this referendum, which was approved by a landslide. It is truly a landmark moment in our Nation’s history,” wrote Squamish Nation councilor Khelsilem, in a statement on Facebook. “The Sen̓áḵw Project will transform the Squamish Nation by providing immense social, cultural, and economic benefits to Squamish Nation members for generations to come.” Construction of the first phase is expected to begin in 2021.
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The U.K. launches a National Design Guide—but why?

The U.K. has released a National Design Guide to help “create beautiful, enduring and successful places.” The guide was published at the start of the month and unveiled by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, however, for all the “good design" the guide preaches, it is at odds with Jenrick’s actual policies. To architects and designers, the principles outlined in the document will seem run-of-the-mill, even perhaps a little patronizing. But the guide is not for them; rather, it intends to ensure that all those involved in a project are on the same page. The focus of this design guide is on good design in the planning system, so it is primarily for:
  • Local authority planning officers, who prepare local planning policy and guidance and assess the quality of planning applications;
  • Councilors who make planning decisions;
  • Applicants and their design teams, who prepare applications for planning permission; and
  • People in local communities and their representatives.
A cursory scroll through the guide reveals a lot of images—almost all houses, with pitched roofs and brick facades along with a surprising amount of churches. A design guide issued by a Conservative politician seemingly calling for Victorian and Georgian villages a does incur a momentary feeling of dread (Poundbury is featured) but thankfully the guide is much more nuanced and ultimately offers some good advice. Ten “characteristics” for design are introduced in the guide, paying special attention to character, community and the climate:
Context – Enhances the surroundings. Identity – Attractive and distinctive. Built form – A coherent pattern of development. Movement – Accessible and easy to move around. Nature – Enhanced and optimised. Public spaces – Safe, social and inclusive. Uses – Mixed and integrated. Homes and buildings – Functional, healthy and sustainable. Resources – Efficient and resilient. Lifespan – Made to last.
The guide also takes into account the contemporary context we find ourselves in and looks to the future: “We expect continuing change as a consequence of climate change, changing homeownership models and technological changes. It is likely to emerge and embed in society rapidly.” Furthermore, there is an added focus on inclusion and community cohesion, defined respectfully as: “Making sure that all individuals have equal access, opportunity and dignity in the use of the built environment;” and “A sense of belonging for all communities, with connections and trust between them. Diversity is valued and people of different backgrounds have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with one another.” However, for all this positive rhetoric—which will hopefully make some impact—the guide is undermined by Jenrick’s latest policy to allow homeowners to add up to two stories to their house without having to get planning permission. This is part of the Conservative party’s push to "build up not out," and essentially allows homeowners to do what they want irrespective of their neighbors' objections, provided the building meets council guidelines and building regulations. Subsequently, it seems bizarre for the guide to talk about scale, height, relation to surroundings, and design quality, the latter of which will be most lacking as a result of such a policy. The guide also appears to feature mostly low-rise schemes and genuine examples of suburban sprawl with a straight face, the antithesis of building "up." “Publishing new design guidance alongside plans to extend permitted development rules, which allow projects to sidestep vital quality and environmental standards, just doesn’t make sense,” remarked RIBA President Alan Jones. “Although increasing permitted development rights is a step in the right direction, they will still be subject to heritage and conservation areas and viewing corridor type constraints,” Vaughn Horsman, design director at the British practice Farrells told AN. “And whilst it supports wider densification, by the time the tangle of other constraints get overlaid, there is still very little available land and air space available for growth in London. Meaning more still needs to be done.” Moreover, the design guide also seems to focus solely on housing. It has admittedly come from the Housing Secretary, but alternative typologies could at least be acknowledged, particularly as the industry moves towards adaptive re-use. Despite this, the guide has been for the most part warmly received by the profession. Teresa Borsuk, a senior adviser at the London-based Pollard Thomas Edwards, told the Architects’ Journal:
[The guide] is a sound piece of work aimed at planning officers, councillors, applicants and local communities. And a lot of it is not new. But what a difficult time for its launch – with everything else going on just now; climate change, affordability, targets, undersupply, Brexit…
Speaking in the same article, Richard Dudzicki, director of Richard Dudzicki Associates, meanwhile called for an “anarchic version of the National Design Guide”:
I started reading the National Design Guide thinking to myself this is not a bad idea, but I quickly thought of the successful places I love; Farringdon in the 90s or Peckham now. They do not fit in the government’s ‘10 simple rules to good design’. The truth is very little good design or successful placemaking will fit in this dull, grey, pragmatic framework. It is about interventions. Predefining spaces will lead to failure; failure of design, failure of place and failure to create a society. Architecture as a profession should be calling out for more. In this profession, we read the brief, rip it up and throw it out of the window and try to come up with a new idea. Let’s have an anarchic version of the National Design Guide.
Finally, the guide concludes by saying that it could be altered after the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission publishes its final report in December this year. This could likely cause groans in the profession: the Commission’s re-appointed cochair, Roger Scruton, has previously voiced his distaste of modernism, and in particular, architects Norman Foster and Mies van der Rohe. "The words 'beautiful' and 'ugly' are dangerous when referring to architecture — they expose personal bias, when our industry is more restricted than ever, by budgets, political and technical constraints," Horsman added. "Urban homes at the scale we need today will struggle to fit everyone’s view of ‘pretty’ –having our work, almost degraded, to such terms is frustrating. "How would ministers feel about a public vote on whether they’re too ugly for the job?” The report can be found in full online, here.

Open Call: R+D for the Built Environment Design Fellowship

R+D for the Built Environment, is sponsoring a 6-month, paid, off-site design fellowship program starting this summer. We're looking for four candidates in key R+D topic areas:
  1. Building material science
  2. 3D printing, robotics, AR/VR
  3. AI, machine learning, analytics, building intelligence
  4. Quality housing at a lower cost
  5. Building resiliency and sustainability
  6. Workplace optimization
  7. Adaptable environments
We're excited to support up-and-coming designers, engineers, researchers (and all the disciplines in between!) advance their work and provide them with a platform to share their ideas. Follow the link below for more details and instructions on how to apply. Applications are due by May 31, 2019. https://sites.google.com/view/rdbe-design-fellowship-2019/home  
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What is Low-resolution architecture?

44 Low-resolution houses was an exhibition of 44 models of houses by 44 architects. It was organized by Michael Meredith and was on display at the Princeton School of Architecture’s North Gallery from September 11-November 9, 2018. Seemingly simple, the show is organized by a strong conceptual framework that puts these houses into dialogue with one another. In the show, “Low-resolution” (Low-res) is posited a way of seeing objects that are not slick surfaces or gridded plans, but rather aggregated, quotidian, and loosely composed. The exhibition is divided into three parts: “first, houses that vaguely resemble houses, using familiar elements like pitched roofs, etc.; second, houses that appear to be constructed, in that one can see the construction, joints, and materials (there is a sort of cheap, unfinished quality to the work); and third, houses that are composed of basic geometric primitives-squares, circles, triangles-arranged in a non-compositional or abstract manner.” In category 1, Montreal practice Atelier Barda’s Maison Gauthiera house that vaguely resembles a house— incorporates narratives of European stables, the gabled roof, arched gateway, vestibule, cathedral ceiling, deep light canyons, and morphological and formal characteristics of Ellsworth Kelly. All of these references were implemented to achieve desired effects while not immediately recognizable as such. Abstracted figural forms escape the cliche of the sign while still holding symbolic meaning, which is a theme of the low-res. In category 2, Ann Arbor firm T+E+A+M’s A Range Life, constructed so that one can see the construction, joints, and materials, creates a feedback loop between the physical and the digital, including printed graphics on the side of the house, but also with similarly weird material approximations such as fake stone bulkheads and foam rocks. The simulations constitute a construction logic that defies the high-tech detailing and material specificity of previous generations such as phenomenologists or the digital avant-garde, as well as big service firms. In category 3, the low-resolution organization (non-compositional or abstract) group, Columbus, OH–based Outpost Office describes their Upstate House as part of a body of work about "openness," or formal and organizational strategy that generates "open systems embedded with multiplicity and/or formal ambiguity." This ambiguity and plurality could provoke new and unexpected social forms.

In this exhibition, these loose, cool compositions are displayed in a highly choreographed, rigorously designed exhibition by New York-based Studio Lin. All-white, 100-pound Bristol paper models at ¼”=1’0” scale with simple AutoCAD hatch patterns showing materials gives each house an equal footing to be compared with others. his is the paradox evident in all of Meredith’s work, where a “Low-res,” nonchalant attitude is hidden deep beneath a refined, clean aesthetic. It is likely what allows him and his practice MOS to have such a distinctive hegemony over young practices today. The problem with this approach for the exhibition is that in architecture, hardcore formalism and the way it strips away material and site sort of undermines the theoretical rigor and novelty of the exhibitions’ content, which relies on more than just massing and abstracted material representations. While this could be read as “Low-res” exhibition design, where only part of the information is available and we get the point, just not in great detail, this would be generous in its reading. IMHO, the conceptual framework of “Low-resseems to be more productive than Meredith’s previous attempt to understand this generation, “indifference.” In Log 39, he wrote an essay “Indifference, Again,” claiming that today's practitioners operate in a condition similar to those in the McCarthy era, and he cited a 1977 Artforum article. This questionable reading of today's political context and the citation of an Artforum article of that vintage left the critical judgment of "indifference" stillborn. However, the shift to the “Low-res” makes more sense in today's neoliberal, late-capitalist world where cultural production is strained by commodification and strained labor. For a group of designers who avoid conflict, “Low-res offers a way to discuss the work that can begin to categorize, understand, and create dialog between the works, rather than simply let the designers off the hook, or veer into nihilistic multivalence like indifference.

Low-res” offer a formal project that becomes extremely productive in part because of the flexibility that arises from the independence of building parts, such as walls and a roof that can be tuned to the needs of program and site, rather than a strict parti of a continuous surface, which can inhibit the finer details of plan and section. The “Low-res” architectural project shares characteristics with certain practices and efforts in both art and product design. Under a broader umbrella of "low"—in the sense of  a "low" production, not necessarily a "low" culture—we can see common threads about how to expose the process of construction or production in the avoidance of what the artist Hito Steyerl describes as "high-end economies of film production were (and still are) firmly anchored in systems of national culture, capitalist studio production, the cult of mostly male genius, and the original version, and thus are often conservative in their very structure."

We can also see this in contemporary art today in the attitude of COMP USA Live, "The original live desktop theater internet television show." The producers created a custom software that allows for a completely anarchic and disorganized aesthetic. Filmed in front of a live studio audience, the show takes place inside of a Windows 2000 desktop. While the technology behind the show is advanced, and the artists are skilled, the show comes off as something more “low-resolution,” as members of the cast are/appear unprepared. They fight with each other, and the low production value is expressed in every sense, from costumes to props and the stage itself. For Meredith, the three categories of “Low-res” point to a similar condition in architecture, one that rejects the futures where virtuosic technology is the answer—the techno-dystopias we see unfolding before us, such as gender-recognition technology—and points to attitudes that make their own ideas about how the world should be: a compositional, material, and organizational “Low-res,” where columns and parts are left articulated in construction, much like the video effects and software glitches (a result of a looseness about color-selection tolerances within the green-screen technology) are left on display in COMP USA Live.

https://vimeo.com/289594891

44 Low-resolution houses showcases some of the best designers in the world, but in the wrong hands, low-resolution seems to have the potential to devolve—or be co-opted—into a techno-dystopian uber-shabby-chic aesthetic, like in District 9, one where the sheddings of capitalism—cheap materials and trash—are recast into aesthetic objects infused with a realism and an almost survivalist fashionability. Given enough space, this kind of formal looseness starts to absorb other loose-nesses in the world, bordering on the ad-hoc or informal. For example, at the 2016 Venice Biennale, curator Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean Aristocrat born of the Post-Pinochet neoliberal order, seemed to suggest that the whole world learns from the practices of the developing world, and build cities out of trash that is disposed of by the machinations of global materialism. The Low-resolution (Low-res) project is not complete, but this show in Princeton’s gallery was a successful attempt to define a set of characteristics and conditions that define contemporary practice for these architects. And this is not easy these days. The remaining question is what causes one to be “Low-res?” How can an entire set of practices be working in this way? It could be that the aesthetics of virtuosity—perfect Grasshopper models—have been absorbed into institutions so deeply that all that is left is some new rethinking of parts as a way to slow down attention but at the same time speed up production, reducing the time spent on generating form and spending more of it looking at material and construction details. Comparing this to Aravena’s Biennale (the aesthetic project of collecting pieces, as well as the social one of helping others), we can see some similarities. Both had dramatic, hi-fidelity exhibition design. While Aravena's Biennale was first a social project that directly attempted to offer solutions to problems, Low-resolution is not. Rather, it grows from conditions underlying the context in which it is produced. Most notably, both are post-digital, Aravena's seeking low-tech solutions that might fill in where the promise of the digital utopia has fallen short, while Meredith's assessment of today's elite design practices arises from a similar condition, probably one where our experience of the digital is less about tools such as Grasshopper, and more about digital space and the feedback loop between online culture, identity politics, and the cut-paste culture of the internet, where anyone can easily piece together an online persona with some clicks of a mouse. Overall, 44 Low-resolution Houses is an important show that could serve as the start of understanding more about how we make architecture today.

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Princeton exhibition breaks down the language of housing

The house is one of the most common architectural typologies and has been reinvented over and over throughout history. Whether they are adaptations of the local vernacular to protect against a harsh climate, or experimental, quick-to-be-demolished single-family homes found across Japan, houses have always been fertile playgrounds for architects, status symbols, design objects, dwellings, and hurdles for urban planners. From now until November 9, the Princeton University School of Architecture will host 44 Low-Resolution Houses, a public exhibition in the North Gallery that attempts to quantify what makes a house a house. The show brings together 44 different architecture studios, each of them contributing a unique model of a “low-resolution” home. These houses reduce homes to the common elements that can be found throughout vastly different structures such as pitched roofs and typical massings, though some are scaled back to simple geometric shapes. All of the houses were removed from any context and materiality and were oriented north to enable an objective comparison between each model. Each home is treated as an individual object, to be evaluated solely on form, and many resemble existing or theoretical projects (keep your eyes peeled for a triangular model of WORKac’s take on the Earthship). All of the models have been elevated and appear to “float” against a black curtain bearing the name of the architects responsible. As part of the prompt, each team contributed a construction element, material, or product that would best represent their home at full scale. The full list of contributing offices is as follows: “6a, Adamo-Faiden, Angela Deuber Architect, Atelier Barda, Atelier Bow-Wow, Besler & Sons, Brandlhuber+, Bruther, Bureau Spectacular, architecten de vylder vinck taillieu in collaboration with Joris Van Huychem, Edition Office, Ensamble Studio, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism in collaboration with Aixopluc, fala atelier, First Office, GAFPA in collaboration with Stabico Ingenieurs, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Go Hasegawa and Associates, Hans Tursack, HHF and Ai Weiwei, Independent Architecture, Johannes Norlander Arkitektur, Johnston Marklee, The LADG, Lütjens Padmanabhan Architekten, MAIO, Monadnock, MPdL Studio, MOS, New Affiliates, OFF-OFF, Outpost Office, PARA Project, Pascal Flammer, Paul Preissner Architects, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Point Supreme, PRODUCTORA, Stan Allen Architect, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, Tato Architects, T+E+A+M, Tham & Videgård Arkitekter, and WORKac.” The show was curated by associate professor of the Princeton University School of Architecture, Michael Meredith. MOS designed the exhibition space and Studio Lin contributed the graphic design. The fashion elements were designed by the New York-based Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

RESIDE: Mumbai Mixed Housing

RESIDE Rapid urban growth and growing inequality has created a global crisis in housing that increasingly segregates the rich from the poor. Though not fully understood, there is a clear and parallel relationship between the size of a city and its level of socio-economic disparity: the larger the city, the less equal it tends to be. Physical and social segregation, which both reflects and perpetuates socio-economic disparity within a city, is a growing concern in cities worldwide - including Mumbai. The long-term success of a city depends on the collective well-being of all its inhabitants. To what extent can architecture support social inclusion and break down spatial segregation within the megacity? arch out loud challenges competition entrants to design a mixed residence development on one of the last undeveloped sections of Mumbai’s coastline. Entrants will design for both the indigenous fishing community that has occupied the site for hundreds of years - as well as a new demographic drawn to the affluent neighborhood that now encompasses the site. Proposals should identify architectural and planning solutions that support integration between these socio-economically distinct communities. JURY Daniel Libeskind - Founding Principal, Studio Libeskind Norman Foster - Founder & Executive Chairman, Foster + Partners Sheila Sri Prakash - Founding Principal, Shilpa Architects Dominique Perrault - Founding Principal, Dominique Perrault Architecture Deborah Berke - Founding Partner, Deborah Berke Partners | Dean, Yale School of Arch Joshua Prince-Ramus - Founding Principal, President, REX Vishaan Chakrabarti - Founding Principal, PAU Sanjay Puri - Founding Principal, Sanjay Puri Architects Sameep Padora - Founding Principal, sP+A Romi Khosla - Founding Principal, Romi Khosla Design Studio Grace Kim  - Founding Principal, Schemata Workshop Geeta Mehta - Founding President, Asia Initiatives | Professor, Columbia University Shefali Balwani - Founding Principal, Architecture BRIO Eric Bunge - Cofounding Principal, nArchitects Yosuke Hayano - Partner/Principal, MADarchitects REWARDS Prizes total to $8,000 OVERALL WINNER - $5,000 + AO feature and certificate 3 Runners up - $1,000 each + AO feature and certificate 10 Honorable Mentions - AO feature and certificate Directors Choice - AO feature and certificate CALENDAR Advanced Registration: Dec 11 - Feb 1 Early Registration: Feb 2 - Mar 29 Regular Registration: Mar 30 - Apr 1 Submission Deadline: May 1
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Eviction is the subject of the National Building Museum's immersive spring show

Inspired by Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. will be hosting Evicted, an immersive exhibition meant to expose visitors to the causes and fallout of eviction. From April 14 through May 19, 2019, guests can see original photography, audio interviews, and new data from Desmond’s Eviction Lab for free. The act of eviction can be a destabilizing force on families, as the evicted are thrust into uncertainty over their housing situation and marked with a blemish on their records that landlords can use to turning them down on rental applications. According to the NBM, “More than 11 million Americans are extremely low-income renters,” and 75 percent of qualified renters don’t receive federal aid. “Until recently, we simply didn’t know how immense this problem was, or how serious the consequences,” said Desmond in a statement. “Eviction does not simply drop poor families into a dark valley, a trying yet relatively brief detour on life’s journey. It fundamentally redirects their way, casting them onto a different, and much more difficult, path. Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” Evicted will convey this hardship through photographs of the eviction process, interviews with those affected, and infographics specifically commissioned for the show. The Eviction Lab’s repository of national eviction information will be packaged for visitors in an easily digestible manner, as the sheer facts and figures involved are typically overwhelming. Far from simply presenting the problem of eviction in a void, Evicted will highlight affordable housing projects and how local and state governments–as well as nonprofits–are tackling the issue. Ultimately, the museum wants to empower patrons to leave with ideas on how to help those on the precipice in their own neighborhoods and lift up those who have already felt the sting of eviction. “Homes form the building blocks of community life,” said executive director of the National Building Museum, Chase Rynd, in a statement. “We have to reveal what happens when this stability is threatened, as eviction looms—as well as ways to help stem this crisis.”
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Defunct gravel mine in San Diego to become millennial housing village

Cement company Lehigh Hanson is converting a defunct gravel mine into an 1,800-unit, millennial-focused mixed-use and residential community.  The development, called 3roots San Diego, will be located in northern San Diego County. If built, the project would be constructed over what remains of the Carroll Canyon mine, a concrete aggregate and gravel mine that ceased operations in 2016. The development, according to Brian Meyers, a consultant for Lehigh Hanson, represents an “alternative” to prototypical urban environments for millennial individuals looking to start a family. Meyers told the San Diego Union Tribune that the development aims to provide some of the “urban lifestyle amenities” like walkability and density of use that make traditional urban areas desirable, but will do so in a more family-oriented environment. The barren 412-acre site is sandwiched between a series of suburban-style residential communities, other mining operations, and an industrial district. 3roots San Diego aims to convert the site into an interlocking network of mixed-use and residential areas bisected by parkland and hiking trails. The project was originally envisioned in 1994 to include a 50-acre industrial district, but a recently-updated plan has scrapped that component in favor of more park space. The development is to be laid out with a mixed-use "innovation district" at its core that will maintain transit connections to a forthcoming extension of San Diego’s light rail system. The so-called Village Core area will feature 749 apartments, 120,000 square feet of retail spaces, and 20,000 square feet of creative office. Renderings for the project depict two parallel rows of warehouse-style structures surrounding a generous pedestrian courtyard. Other scattered mixed-use buildings will fill out the remainder of development’s main node with apartments, and the developer will gradually add attached and detached single family homes up and down the hilly site. A series of parks will wrap the site's edges to allow for connections to existing and new public streets and trails. Overall, 3roots San Diego will have 201 acres of open space overall, including 40 acres of publicly-accessible parks and hiking trails. Residential areas for the project will be laid out according to density, with the project’s 310 attached single-family homes sandwiched between the more dense Village Core and a zone containing 746 detached single-family homes. Renderings depict manicured rows of apartments, townhouses, and detached homes amid lush, hilly landscapes. Public meetings and and environmental reviews for the project are scheduled to completed in 2018. The developers aim to complete the first homes for the project in 2021 with final buildout by 2025. See the 3roots San Diego site for more information.
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HUD report reveals housing affordability crisis unfolding across America

The nationwide affordable housing crisis is nearing a record high: More than 8 million renters in 2015 had "worst case housing needs," according to a report released last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Very low-income, unassisted families who pay more than half their monthly income for rent and/or live in severely substandard housing are labeled as worst case needs residents. The Worst Case Housing Needs: 2017 Report to Congress reveals that in 2015, 8.3 million households had worst case needs, a 66 percent spike since 2001 and a number approaching the record high of 8.48 million in 2011.

According to the report, cases “cut across all regions of the county and include all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of whether they live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas.”

Most of the nation’s very low-income renters—those who earn less than 50 percent of Area Median Income—reside in the South (6.7 million), followed by the West (4.5 million). The areas with the highest concentrations of worst case households among very low-income renters, however, were in major urban areas: the New York metropolitan area, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the Chicago metropolitan area.

HUD's report revealed that while ongoing economic recovery will help increase incomes for very low-income renters, other factors continue to drive the affordable housing crisis. The report cites severe rent burden—those paying more than 50 percent of their income towards monthly rent—as one of the primary factors. Out of the households with worst case needs in 2015, 98.2% had severe rent burden.

The other main cause includes a scarcity of units with affordable rents. Despite an increase in overall rental units and in median renter’s income over the past two years, monthly rents also increased and the shortage of affordable and available units for this population became more severe. For the poorest renters, rent hikes outpace income increases, according to the report.

Nationwide, only 66 affordable units exist for every 100 extremely low-income renters, and of that, only 38 are available for occupancy.

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Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture gifted a new Wright-designed home in Phoenix

The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (whose 150th would-be birthday was last week), has been donated to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The house led a charmed life up until recently. Designed in 1952 by Wright for his son David, the 2,500-square-foot, mostly concrete house had come into the ownership of developers who wanted to bulldoze it and replace it with more profitable housing. News of this intention saw preservationists spring into action, but the standard procedures were scuppered as in Arizona, where private property laws hold strong, landmarking only saves a building for three years. On October 12, 2012, Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times explained the other, costlier method of saving the house: "The other prong of attack is to find some preservation-minded angel with deep pockets who will buy it from the developer. Preferably today." Cue Zach Rawlings. A custom homebuilding entrepreneur, Rawlings fell in love with architecture after exploring it across the country with his mother. As a young boy, he even caught a glimpse of the David and Gladys Wright house when he peered over the wall. Little did he know he would later save it. During his research, Rawlings came across architects John Lautner and Wallace Cunningham, both graduates of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin, in Wisconsin. Cunningham went on to work with Rawlings. "The first chance I got to call and hire architects while building homes, I called Wallace Cunningham," the developer said. Then one evening over dinner, Cunningham informed Rawlings about an Act of Demolition permit that had been filed for the David and Gladys Wright home. "I finished the dinner, got on the phone with my mom and told her I was flying to Phoenix in the morning,” said Rawlings, reacting to the news. "I asked her to please call the broker of the home and schedule a tour as soon as possible." Twenty-four hours after Cunningham and Rawlings had sat down, Frank Lloyd Wright's work had been saved from the wrecking ball. After that dramatic episode, Rawlings went on to meet Aaron Betsky, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin in 2015. Over more food (this time lunch), Rawlings became inspired by Betsky's ambitions for the school, and the pair discussed the possibility of faculty members living there. Now the house will be donated to a fund under the Arizona Community Foundation for the sole benefit of the School.

"It’s transformative for the school and a fantastic opportunity," Betsky told The Architect's Newspaper. "One of the things that sets our school apart is living and working in Frank Lloyd Wright's built works—this addition only enhances that experience and lets us build on Wright’s legacy."

Betsky also acknowledged that "without doubt," some work has to be done on the house before educational programming can start there. A structural analysis has been carried out, though repairs to cantilevers and fixing leaks and touching up areas of corrosion also need to take place. Phoenix-based architect Victor Sidy is working on the building, as is landscape architect Chris Winters.

Arizonan architect Eddie Jones, principal at Jones Studio, will be teaching at the design studio specifically launched for the David and Gladys House. The studio will begin this fall and students will engage in the building and its six-acre site's renovation. (Originally, when Rawlings first purchased the house, it only came with a two-and-a-half–acre lot. Rawlings then bought adjacent lots to try and restore its original acreage.)

"This is all about the house becoming a place that can help students understand the relationship between the landscape and the built environment," remarked Betsky. He estimated that renovation work could take two-three years but admitted this was "optimistic." "We do not want to interrupt the [design] work going on inside," he said. Once restored there will be limited tours, and the house will be open to the public.