August 21, 2018

Striving for Design Excellence: Notes from the 2018 Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute

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Affordable Housing Design Leadership 2018 attendees group photo in Seattle, Washington

The 9th Annual Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute landed in Seattle from July 16-18, 2018, bringing seven of the country’s top affordable housing developers together with nine of the nation’s leading designers to collaboratively tackle improving real projects in developers’ pipelines.

Each year at the Institute, developers, architects, landscape architects, policy makers and city officials convene to explore how design can be leveraged to create more livable and sustainable affordable housing. 

Over its nine-year tenure, the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute has touched more than 60 affordable housing projects and directly impacted the lives of thousands of residents and community members. In 2018, the Institute was awarded the prestigious American Institute of Architects Collaborative Achievement Award for elevating the practice of social impact design and encouraging innovation and partnership across the design and development sectors. 

This year’s development teams ranged in scale and size from mid-sized housing authorities – Yakima Housing Authority and Tacoma Housing Authority (both in Washington) – to local/regional developers – Mercy Housing Northwest and HomeSight (both in Washington) and Ascendant Neighborhood Development (New York) – and a land trust – South Florida Community Land Trust in Florida, as well as a tribal economic development agency – REDCO in South Dakota.

Developers were supported by a diverse Design Resource Team, which in 2018 was formed by: 

  • Amanda Loper, Principal at David Baker Architects – San Francisco/Birmingham, Alabama
  • Brian Phillips, Principal at ISA Architects – Philadelphia
  • April DeSimone, Partner at Designing the We – New York
  • David Rowe, Executive VP of Development at CAMBA Housing Ventures – New York
  • Sam Beall, Rose Fellow Alumni and Architect at Dunkin Wisniewski Architecture – Burlington, Vermont
  • Shawn Rickenbacker, Director of J. Max Bond Center for Urban Futures – New York 
  • Azzurra Cox, Landscape Designer at GGN – Seattle
  • Deanna Van Burren and Kyle Rawlins, Co-Founders of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces – Oakland, California

Each development team presented a project that is in pre-development and received customized design, construction and community engagement feedback from their peers and the Design Resource Team. 

Challenging questions developers brought to the Institute included: 

  • How can designs be streamlined to minimize construction costs, but customizable enough to provide opportunities for residents to individualize their space and foster pride? 
  • Where can landscape design be integrated into the project to improve residents’ living experience and provide project sustainability?
  • How can common spaces - hallways, elevator lobbies, and balconies - be optimized to encourage walking and foster interaction between neighbors?

As we learned from the charrettes, small design changes can radically transform spatial experiences. In one Seattle-based project, Sam Beall – an alumnus of the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship and current architect at Duncan Wisniewski in Burlington, Vermont – suggested rotating the placement of the elevators, which would open up the lobby to receive more light and create a quiet respite space.

Additional opportunities to bolster the learning experience were also incorporated into the Institute. Participants took part in an innovation tour of the award-winning Marion West Project which was brought to the 2012 Institute in New York City by the Low Income Housing Institute. The tour also visited the 12th Avenue Arts project developed by Capitol Hill Housing.  

To share the importance of design excellence with the Seattle community at-large, Enterprise also hosted a public keynote at the Seattle Art Museum attended by nearly 300 people. The keynote address was delivered by Steven Lewis, Design Director for the Central Region of Detroit and former President of the National Association of Minority Architects.  The message focused on the important role of design in delivering an equitable recovery in Detroit and provided lessons learned for other cities. 

Over the next year, Enterprise will be looking at ways to scale the powerful learning that takes place at the Institute each year and looks forward to sharing those resources.

More details about this year’s Institute, participants and development projects can be found on the AHDLI webpage.

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