Case Studies in Designing Affordable vs Market-rate Housing


Comparing the landscape design of several of PGA’s recently completed housing projects.  The projects will vary from those built to serve the high-tech luxury market-rate to the professional class and affordable. Design and client expectations for each are widely different.  Chris will discuss key the differences in clients expectations and approaches.

10 thoughts on “Case Studies in Designing Affordable vs Market-rate Housing

  1. The differences between market rate and affordable landscape projects seemed to be limited to having amenities like fire pits, out door kitchens, and slightly more expensive material/vegetation. I wonder if there is a creative way to vary the way a public space is used in an affordable housing project.

    There seemed to be a lot of consideration in keeping kids out of the vegetation. Would providing a designated play area for kids keep this vegetation tramping under control? Though perhaps this is difficult when the courtyard is limited to the size of the parking decks.

    The gestures toward a hierarchy of public to semi public spaces is a nice gesture.

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    • Hannah, to clarify, there is a lot of consideration in keeping everyone out of the vegetation. It is one the ironic, unfortunate things that come with designing on structure – plantings become precious and have a look but don’t touch quality – unless of course its a hands-on planter or community garden. A bigger problem, and one I failed to mention is pets, in particular dogs. More housing projects are allowing them. A designers need to find out if the project will allow dogs early n the design process as the landscape will need to be designed, hardened, for pet use, or better yet, a separate place for dogs – on structure planters should not be used as dog relieving stations.. Whether or not to allow dogs should not be made by the property management after the project opens. Comparatively kids are gently (except for the 5 year olds 😉

      Chris Kent

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  2. I really appreciated how Chris spoke of the way that design was informed by the demographics that the development was catering towards, but that was not necessarily how the site was ultimately used. You would figure that a housing development meant for young couples would anticipate children and not exclude amenities for them. The types of amenities placed within a courtyard and plaza can be meant to encourage interest in a location, such as a pool, but to assume that no one would actually use it is myopic. His acknowledgement of these facts highlights the compromises that must be made when working in collaboration with others, knowing that some things are a function of marketing and not reality. This was also apparent in the fact that underground parking lots are a blind requirement regardless of whether there is a legitimate need, you would figure with all of the engineering and investment that gets allocated to these underground spaces that more thought would go into whether they were needed or alternative ways the space could be multi-functional (i.e. basketball / bicycle storage / work space).

    One of the things he brought up that really caught my attention was the validity of ‘wucols’ in determining appropriate plants for drought tolerant design. This is a resource have used in the past, but being a student I have not had the opportunity to put my designs into application and see whether they would work. It is going to be a challenge as a landscape architect in California because drought conscious design is heavily emphasized and if there is not a reputable and valid alternative to ‘wucols’ that can help determine suitable plants for artificial settings then what other resources are available other than knowing someone wizened with experience that you can look to for help.

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  3. I come from an architecture background and have little knowledge in landscape. It is really interesting seeing how the two fields has a lot of similarities when it comes to building community. I really appreciate How Chris brought up the significance of having different varieties of outdoor seating: for large groups, small groups and even individuals. Often times when we design for a community, we automatically assume that we are designing for the large groups and sometimes we left out the small groups or those who just want to have a sit somewhere alone. This lecture reminded me to take all types of people and events into consideration when designing spaces for communities.

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  4. The talk was interesting to me because I worked in an office in Germany that has similar project assignments as PGA, inner courtyards of housing complexes, etc. We did social housing and high end projects as well. In Northern Europe the quality of affordable housing is monitored by different City planning departments and investors must obey certain rules. For instance 1/3 of the building plot must be covered with vegetation, the playground area must be included, its size is in correlation to the number of apartments and so on, the quality of the materials is prescribed. I had impression that here in the US this things are more regulated by the market therefore there are bigger differences between affordable and luxury projects. I could recognize a different aesthetics, as well as different choice of urban furniture than we are used to in Europe. The comments about how open space design can foster a community feeling made a lot of sense to me. This is something we should apply more, aiming at bigger diversity of open spaces.

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  5. In Chris lecture, he made a clear case that through good designing and innovatively financing, affordable housing could be seamlessly woven into its surrounding community. The concrete, steel, and low maintenance landscape could also create dynamic and interesting public open space.

    He emphasizes on how small features could facilitate community environment, such as the fire pit, movie theatre, fish pond, and ping pong table. It is very true that generally two strangers will not sit on one bench because people would unconsciously seek for a comfortable public distance. A fire pit, however, would be a key to help form a community because it can not only provide warmth and light, but also create ambiance for socializing, entertaining, and relaxation.

    One question I am curious about is what if there is a portion of inclusionary housing (e.g.15%) within a market rate community. Would these small group of residents use the public space differently? Would they feel that they do not belong to that environment?

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  6. It’s very interesting to see how different construction strategies be applied on affordable housings and market-rate housings from Chris’s lecture. Besides, different kinds of space are designed for different ranges of budget. And we could also tell what kinds of construction strategies be applied based on the materials use for pavement.
    I come from architecture training and don’t have that much training of landscape design. And when I do design buildings, there’s always not much to do with landscape design (or space outside building). All I always do for that is using trees to highlight the paths to my building. From this lecture, I see the importance of landscaping space. The space could not only address the main spirit of project but also providing the solutions for architecture design.

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  7. With nearly every speaker that comes through CED, I like to consider not only their projects/concepts/ideas, but also what aspects of their jobs I would find fulfilling. I think it’s especially important during school to constantly be constantly questioning and reconceptualizing where you will best fit in in the post-academic, professional world.

    In a way, Chris’ talk help to remind me that where I really want to eventually want to find myself is working on large, public open space. I really want to bring together my dual background in City Planning and Landscape Architecture to focus on sites fully within the public realm. Yet, Chris’ talk was also a good for clarifying the difficulty of fully focusing on this type of work. As he explained, public space bids are perhaps the most competitive to win, whereas residential landscape projects are often more numerous and accessible (at least given the expertise within his firm). This point was actually a good reality check for me and provides some basis as to what I’ll encounter in the working world.

    In addition, I also thought it was very informative to hear how his team sometimes works within a constrained budget for some of the affordable housing projects. I thought they were really able to create some fairly effective designs (especially in one of the last courtyards he showed) with very durable and fairly cheap materials. In some ways, I think this type of approach is what is needed to make quality landscape architecture more accessible to a broader socioeconomic spectrum of the public.

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  8. I just switched to landscape architecture major and I am trying to use up all of the resources in order to figure out what exactly I am passionate about and how exactly am I going to apply all of my gained knowledge to my future career.
    During Chris’s lecture I admired the fact that he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge all of the different areas that he could still improve on. He would point out some of the mistakes or imperfections in his projects, which I believe helped me understand the requirements of a successful project.
    I also liked how he touched on some political and social issues. He pointed out that even though projects are being built for low income individuals and families it is very hard for them to actually get the housing due to a very high demand and very strict personal record rules.

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