Designing affordable housing

Excerpt from The Right to Home – p. 302-303

A “before” and “after” scheme is used below to illustrate how design can be employed in support of Culturally Enriched Communities without necessarily costing more (Image 21). The “before” version is a 2-bedroom affordable housing apartment (1,011 sq. ft.) from one of Minneapolis’ largest affordable housing providers—Aeon’s Ripley Gardens (n.d.). With two bedrooms, it can be inhabited by a maximum of four people, according to Minneapolis’ occupancy limits. Examples include, a couple and two children; a couple with one child and an elder, relative, or friend; an elder caring for grandchildren; a single person hosting relatives/friends in need; a single adult with children, or a single person/couple who works from home, etc.

In the “before” scheme, characteristics that support diverse ways of living encompass the kitchen, which can be separated from the social areas of the home if needed. One could hang a curtain to block off the view (and smells) from the entrance, the social areas, and the corridor that leads to the bedrooms. A wall could also be built by the provider without having to incur cost associated with moving the sink. The dining area can accommodate large gatherings as it is connected to the social area, which allows for the table to expand and contract. And lastly, the large walk-in closet can accommodate storage of oversized items, freeing the space from clutter.

Characteristics that restrict how spaces are used on the other hand, include the kitchen being placed on the left side of the unit and lacking a connection to the social area, whereas the entry space is undefined as to expected uses. The kitchen is also narrow and to access the refrigerator, one would have to traverse the kitchen’s work triangle, which can create traffic jams and interfere with the work of the cook. Having more than one person in the kitchen at a time would be quite tight. In addition, the bathroom does not accommodate multiple users, increasing the potential for conflict and stress, particularly if everyone is trying to get ready for school or work in the morning. Privacy concerns continue with the two bedrooms, which share a wall through which sound can easily travel.

The “after” scheme proposes a design solution that is more flexible and adaptable. Physical and social health are supported by the kitchen being moved to the right side of the unit for a more direct connection to the social area. A person cooking can easily supervise children doing homework or converse with family members and guests. That person can also have views to the outdoors, which makes cooking a more enjoyable task and eases stress. The kitchen can be closed or open and this option can be accomplished with a simple window on the wall that connects to the social area. If totally open, it can accommodate multiple cooks on the two counters. Flexibility continues with the dining area, which can easily be expanded for special celebrations and large gatherings. A similar approach is applied to the bathroom, which is now compartmentalized and an additional sink is placed in the corridor for multiple users. The privacy concerns in the bedrooms are subdued by the placement of closets used as a buffer. An angled wall forges a sense of entry and can be used to display cherished possessions, helping craft meaning and identity. From within the bedroom, the angled wall can be the setting of a desk, signifying the importance of education and grounding aspirations for the future.