July 14, 2017

Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute Project Wins Design Award Ahead of 8th Annual AHDLI Next Week

What serendipitous timing is was to learn, as we prepare for the 8th annual Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute (AHDLI) next week in Boston, that Marion West, a development project of Seattle-based Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) that was brought to the 2012 AHDLI at Parsons School of Design had recently won the Gold Nugget Award Grand Prize for Best Residential Project for 2017 (attached housing) and the Best Affordable Housing Award (for projects 100 du/or more) from the Pacific Coast Builders Conference.

Opened in June 2016, the complex provides 49 apartments for homeless young adults and low-wage workers; a community food bank; the Street Bean Café that trains and employs homeless youth; and a green vegetated roof where produce is grown for the food bank. Twenty of the studios provide permanent supportive housing for homeless young adults ages 18 to 25 and the remaining twenty-nine provide affordable workforce housing for people with incomes up to 60% of the area median income.

At Enterprise we spend a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate design thinking into affordable housing and community development. We know that quality design can have a profound impact on resident health and deliver economic and environmental benefits to low-income communities, with little to no added costs for developers.

But, there are too few opportunities, if any, during the standard development process to step back and think broadly about the implications of design decisions on the building, let alone on residents and the neighborhood.

With this in mind, eight years ago we launched AHDLI to provide a structured forum where designers and developers could collaborate in real-time on real projects in the pre-development phase, and to take that step back and ask critically important questions, together. Does this development maximize our mission? Does it enhance neighborhood connectivity and encourage healthy resident behaviors? Does it minimize resource usage and operating costs? Affordable housing properties don’t exist in isolation. They exist within the fabric of their community, and the design decisions developers make can either strengthen that fabric or weaken it.

Sharon Lee, the Executive Director of LIHI shared that, “AHDLI has taught our Housing Development staff the value of having other architects and design professionals weigh in and give suggestions during the early stages of design. Too often, the project architect does an initial, quick design so the nonprofit can  submit it to funders for financing, and the initial design reluctantly gets set in stone. It makes sense to revisit an initial design and to ask an architect to explore other options, including bringing in outside experts.”

According to Lee:

Our participation in AHDLI had a very positive impact on the design of The Marion West. Our architect had a challenging program with multiple uses. In addition, a historic Carnegie Library operated by Seattle Public Library is located next door. The initial design had the four-story building sitting on the property line with no set-back. While this conformed to the city’s design standards, it created a canyon-like experience on the street.

During the charrette, an idea was introduced to place the major spine of the building at a diagonal. This would give breathing space for the street and acknowledge the unique character of the library, provide visual relief to pedestrians walking by, and create a dynamic face on the building. We wanted to make a bold gesture and get away from being another stereotypical ho-hum low-income housing building. Since we are housing homeless youth, we also decided to accentuate color and add playfulness to the façade.

By bringing architects and community developers together, AHDLI raises frontline design and development leaders’ capacity to harness the power of design to better serve residents and communities. Congratulations to LIHI for their well-deserved recognition from the Pacific Coast Builders Conference. We’re looking forward to next week’s AHDLI and to sharing what we learn right here.

And we know that Marion West is not an isolated success of this invocative program. In a recent survey  of former participants about their AHDLI experience, we heard that:

  • 82% of participating developers begun to ask more of their architects than they had in the past;
  • 85% of developers reported they now address design earlier in the development process;
  • 85% of designers said they are better able to work with affordable housing developers;
  • 93% of designers reported they increased their understanding of affordable housing developers’ challenges and opportunities; and
  • 70% of participating developers were better able to make the case to others for well-designed affordable housing.

We’re hoping that this year’s Institute will be no different in the quality of our conversation and the depth of our collective creativity to influence beautiful and impact housing that is affordable.

This year’s Design and Developer Resource teams are made up of the following experts:

Design Resource Team

Developer Resource Team Organizations

The Marion West.jpg

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