October 7, 2019

Big Idea: For Breakthrough Housing, Amp up Shared Spaces and Cultivate Tenacity 

Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects

Ten years ago, the Enterprise Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute set out to elevate the status quo in affordable housing design and support the creation of housing that lifts-up individuals and communities. Over a decade, through nearly 70 unique conversations about the challenges and potential of real development projects, across a network of almost 250 developers, designers, policy-makers, public health experts and others, an incredible amount of innovation has happened.

Our goal in the “10 Years, 10 Big Ideas” series is to bring you the best of that innovation, making leading-edge design and development ideas open source and day-lighting the voices of leaders driving forward the state of affordable housing design. 

Browse the Big Ideas Series

Amanda Loper, Principal at David Baker Architects (DBA), attended Enterprise’s Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute as a member of the Design Resource team in 2018, and shared DBA’s “9 Ways to Build Community with Urban Housing.” DBA, an award-winning firm with a focus on affordable housing, harnesses these nine principals to create community in all of their projects and champions the tough leadership necessary to hold on to good design in the challenging affordable housing ecosystem. 

Carrie Niemy, Program Director, Initiative, Enterprise Community Partners: What’s your favorite element of affordable housing design?

Amanda Loper: Definitely the community spaces. There is such an opportunity in community spaces that is often overlooked. They’re so well-used – the lobby, courtyards, common rooms, and laundry rooms become the heart of the building.

So, when we are designing these spaces, we really are designing for everyone. We often provide very similar amenities in market-rate buildings, but in my experience, the public spaces within affordable housing developments are vibrant, well-loved areas used by people of all ages.

At DBA, we strive to cultivate connection by paying attention to where these spaces are located and how they are designed. We put complementary uses together to make life easier, and we create opportunities for social connections to make life richer.

For example, when we design an open-air lobby with pathways around the courtyard, kids can zoom around on scooters while mom checks the mail and maybe runs into a friend coming down the stairs. Or, in a senior building, there can be a ping-pong tournament happening next to a busy community garden, next to a place to sit peacefully, but in company, outside of your apartment. Something for everyone.

CN: What makes AHDLI important to you?

AL: At AHDLI, I’ve realized that throughout the country, we are all striving to do the same thing – create beautiful, functional, and vibrant places to live for people of all incomes.

What differs is the resources available in our jurisdictions, the teams we have around us, and the political landscapes we face. AHDLI brings together developers and designers with a wide range of experience and toolkits to share notes and learn from each other. It is an encouraging and challenging environment to express your ideas, examine your project and be inspired by others. 

CN: What is the best lesson your career in affordable housing design has taught you?

AL: One of the big ideas I’ve learned in doing this work is that to get a high-quality building above the status quo, you have to have sustained tenacity. These projects take years – sometimes decades. You have to remain clear and committed to your vision and not give up on ideas or aspects of the project that you know are going to make a difference. 

To give an example, the dancing columns at Five88 came out of a very tough cost environment. Instead of losing the concrete texture altogether, DBA insisted on a meeting with the subcontractor personally. Through meeting with them, we figured out the way to achieve the concrete texture we envisioned, which truly adds a light-hearted tone to the sidewalk approach of a pretty substantial building. 

Sustained tenacity means having that sixth meeting with the City to get a sidewalk extension or speed table approved so that pedestrians are safer walking to and from your building. It means getting really creative during a tough value-engineering meeting or taking the time to work directly with a subcontractor to come up with a budget-friendly strategy to make the textured concrete beautiful, durable, and possible.

You need to discern what the deal-breaker elements are for your project. Then, to produce remarkable buildings that are great places to live, you have to show up every day, to every meeting or call, and put in the work. 

About the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute

For the past ten years, the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute (AHDLI) has brought together the leading-edge of development and design practitioners to share best practices and to take on affordable housing’s increasingly complex construction, policy and finance challenges.

In 2018, AHDLI was awarded the AIA’s Collaborative Achievement Award and was named a Hive for Housing Top 5 Innovator. The program’s core tools are now available on Enterprise’s Design Matters site

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