Page B2.2 . 25 May 2005                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
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Affordable Environments


Responsible design that respects the environment is variously called "environmentally friendly," "green," or "sustainable." The concept of sustainability in modern times can be traced back to President Theodore Roosevelt who said in 1910: "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

But Roosevelt's vision has not always been America's reality. Our current method of supplying affordable housing is short-sighted and destructive. We focus on up-front costs, to the exclusion of long-term cost savings, health, and environmental benefits. We need to take a longer view: What does it take to maintain a house from start to finish? How does its construction and maintenance affect the environment? Can we develop a better model?

Setting a Good Example

Developing a better model will require us to address sustainable and affordable housing design in dynamic and imaginative new ways. As Peter Buchanan, former deputy editor of The Architectural Review and curator of the exhibition Ten Shades of Green notes, "There is no such thing as a green architecture or a green aesthetic. Instead there are countless ways design can address and synthesize green issues."

Buchanan continues: "Green design is not merely a matter of add-ons or product specification. It involves more than insulation, low-emissivity glass, nonpolluting paints, and water-conserving toilets. Rather, it influences the form of the whole building and is one of its major generators from the first moments of the design process. As a corollary, pursuing a green agenda is no constraint on creativity but instead a major stimulus toward an architecture that is innovative, significant, and relevant."

The unmistakable conclusion is this: We cannot continue to afford the design inefficiencies of our "affordable" housing. Our current behavior needs to change, and it's simply a matter of time until we will be forced as a society to do so.

The good news is that we have already begun to address the problem. There are scores of resources available and countless individuals, programs, and businesses that are dedicated to helping us address our current needs in a way that will help conserve our natural resources for future generations. Community design organizations, university design/ build programs, city initiatives, and even a few government programs are forging ahead.

Day by day, the public becomes more involved and better informed. The recent exhibition, Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., generated the second largest attendance in the museum's 20-year history. Building supply centers have begun to offer some eco-friendly materials. If we demand them, governmental programs and tax and mortgage incentives will follow.

The HOME House Project

What might happen if well designed houses for low- and moderate-income families began to flourish in established, even affluent neighborhoods? Could well designed houses that use materials and methods carefully planned to be environmentally friendly be better not only for the planet but for the families that inhabit them?

What would be the result if affordable, sustainable design became an important element in communities, city housing services, and manufactured housing organizations across the country? And how can a contemporary art museum aid in these endeavors? These are some of the questions raised by the HOME House Project sponsored by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA).

A multiyear initiative, the HOME House Project is SECCA's effort to address the interrelated issues of design, affordability, and sustainability in housing. The project features multiple components: a competition, an exhibition, a publication, educational programming, and a building phase all of which are made possible by a large range of partnerships and collaborations with individuals, organizations, and communities.

The success of the HOME House Project depends on the museum's ability to foster close working relationships with a large variety of collaborators. This collaboration means that the character of the project will evolve as the contributions of individuals help define the shape of the initiative.

Initially, however, the HOME House Project is concerned with the type of housing that is being offered in the affordable housing arena, the manner in which these houses are built, and the type of materials that are currently being used to build them. Specifically, the project aims to provide inspired design for those individuals and families involved in the affordable housing market, a market that has historically seen very little innovation, let along inspiration.

Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

David J. Brown is senior curator and HOME House Project director at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA). He has organized more than fifty exhibitions and large-scale community projects.

This article is excerpted from The HOME House Project: The Future of Affordable Housing, copyright 2004, available from The MIT Press and at



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An eco-house made from shipping containers was one of many submissions in the "HOME House" project organized by SECCA.
Image: Jennifer Siegal/ Office of Mobile Design

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"Sleeve," a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: Marc Swackhamer, Blair Satterfield, Robert Burnham, and Cory Satterfield

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Affordable sustainability, a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: David M. Harmon

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Homey affordability, a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: Robert Ventura

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Affordable delight, a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: Motonobu Kurokawa

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"Square Feet Studio," a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: John Bencich, Mike Boland, and Mark Blair/ Square Feet Studio

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Affordable sustainability, a submission to the "HOME House" project.
Image: Bill Edgerton

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The HOME House Project, a publication from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.
Image: The MIT Press


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