January 29, 2018

AIA Recognizes Enterprise for Affordable Housing Design Leadership

Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute

In February 2009, I received the sad news of the death of a dear friend and inspirational architect, J. Max Bond Jr. In addition to leading an important global architecture practice, Max had dedicated much of his career to advancing racial justice through community-based design. His life and passion motivated me to ask, how do we leverage the commitment and skills of mission-based architects like Max to more effectively bring the best design — and designers — to my field, affordable housing and community development? 

Not long after, I spoke with renowned architect Larry Scarpa and Maurice Cox, now director of planning for the city of Detroit. Two longtime friends who had just participated in the Mayors’ Institute for City Design, they were interested in leveraging the Institute’s model to improve affordable housing. 

The result of that conversation was Enterprise’s Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute (AHDLI), which was honored on Friday with the prestigious 2018 Collaborative Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects. The AIA recognized AHDLI for being a “quiet but powerful force shaping social impact design.”  

Founded in 2010 on the belief that design excellence in affordable housing can transform the built environment to improve health and well-being and increase opportunity for residents, AHDLI has achieved dramatic results in towns and cities across the country. 

It brings together leading designers and developers of affordable homes for a two-and-a-half-day convening focused on innovation and best practices in community and sustainable design. Modeled after that same Mayor’s Institute on City Design that Larry and Maurice attended, AHDLI has served more than 70 nonprofit and community groups and municipalities. 

By enabling affordable housing developers to take a step back and reconsider what their buildings might achieve, developers learn to make well-designed homes affordable and create vibrant, more resilient communities. Over the past seven years, we have hosted seven institutes in Minneapolis; Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Detroit; Atlanta and Boston, and we look forward to this July when we’re hosting it in Seattle. 

To begin scaling this work so more people can benefit from it, we have built a curriculum that teaches developers the fundamentals of design and designers the foundations and constraints of affordable housing development. This new resource, combined with our grants and technical assistance, advances the adoption of design excellence in affordable housing from both fields.

Attending AHDLI has strengthened the design decisions made by dozens of developers of affordable homes and frequently improved the designs of their properties to enhance the health, well-being and opportunity available to their residents. For example, after team members of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) of Seattle attended, they significantly revised the design of the building they were creating for homeless youth. The result improved the lives of those young people and LIHI went on to win the 2017 Gold Nugget Design Award for “Best Affordable Housing.” 

In a survey conducted last year of past participants of AHDLI, 70 percent of participating developers said they were better able to make the case to others for well-designed affordable housing; 95 percent stated that they now work more effectively with their designers; and 85 percent reported that they now address design earlier in the development process. 

As Chul Gugich from A Community of Friends in Los Angeles put it:

“It was nice to step out from the weeds, to get away from the details and daily grind of making a project happen, and instead explore what an affordable housing development can mean not only to its residents, but to surrounding neighbors and the larger community. I appreciated AHDLI’s holistic approach and how the design team’s diverse viewpoints allowed the human and constructed elements of the presented projects to seamlessly overlay.”

As we approach nearly a decade of leading AHDLI, now is a special opportunity for designers and developers from across the country to come together in an effort to accelerate the adoption of design excellence in affordable housing. Our goal is to continually raise the bar for the design and development of homes that are not only affordable but also inspiring, livable, and resilient, rungs in the ladder of opportunity for low-income families.

We are honored that AIA has recognized this work and hope that AHDLI provides architects the same inspiration that Max provided to me to use their design skills to serve communities that need it most.  

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