Designing Supportive Housing

From an April 2002 interview in Metropolis Magazine:

“Rosanne Haggerty is the new landlord of the Andrews Hotel, a grim vermin-infested joint at the corner of Bowery and Spring Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She is also founder and executive director of Common Ground Community, a nonprofit organization that has purchased and converted a handful of historic buildings, including the Times Square Hotel, into some of New York’s most progressive low-income housing — work that last year earned her a $500,000 ‘genius grant’ from the MacArthur Foundation.

After four years of field research that took Haggerty and her staff from the public shelters of New York to the capsule hotels of Japan, Common Ground Community is set to begin transforming the century-old Andrews into something they call First Step Housing. Working with New York architects Marguerite McGoldrick and Gans + Jelacic, and more than 150 homeless men and women who contributed feedback, Haggerty plans to combine elements of the Bowery’s dying flophouse tradition — $7 a night, no lease, no questions — with smart management, on-site social services, and space-efficient modular design. Recently she spoke with Douglas McGray about the project’s design considerations — and its lessons.”

Rosanne Haggerty:

“Social scientist Christopher Jencks zoned in on the loss of the cubicle hotels as a specific cause of the rise of single-adult homelessness. That got me thinking, Why don’t these places exist anymore? For years I’d get close to the question and then recoil because these buildings were so squalid. The quality-housing advocate in me couldn’t comprehend how one could responsibly advocate their resurgence. It finally occurred to me that until not-for-profits started working on them, single-room occupancies had also been looked at as substandard forms of housing. Then it clicked — it’s more of a failure of imagination on our part than anything embedded in the model.”

After extensive research, including two months in Osaka, Japan studying the flexible use of limited space, interviews with individuals and groups of homeless men and women, including feedback on three rounds of prototypes, Common Ground developed a design that was attractive, affortable, and secure.

“The main reason people are remaining on the streets is safety. They perceive themselves to be more secure sleeping in a public space than in the city’s shelter system. People were very keen on the idea of metal detectors, very concerned about what the roof material would look like — how secure it would be. They were concerned about the strength of the lock and the durability of the construction....

Somebody had a very good line. He said, ‘You don’t want it to be a doll house, but you don’t want it to be a cell either.’ A lot of these folks have been in psychiatric hospitals or in jail, and they don’t want an environment that reminds them of that. Things as subtle as being able to move the furniture around — not having it nailed down — being able to get control of a degree of privacy in the space, having a window that opens and closes onto a central corridor seemed to take something that could have been viewed as institutional and make it cozy....

Frankly, design makes a significant difference in terms of the atmosphere of calm and respect that you establish. People respond behaviorwise to being in that kind of environment. Keeping maintenance costs reduced is also a consideration. We need spaces that can be cleaned easily, panels that can be removed and replaced without having to trash the whole unit.”

The First Step units are prefabricated, ship nearly flat and can bolt together in almost any commercial space.

Many of the housing projects incorporate social services:

Supportive housing is permanent housing with social services for the formerly homeless, people with mental and/or medical disabilities, the elderly, and individuals with low-income. Supportive housing combines affordable accomodations with services like mental health and drug addiction counseling, job training and placement, community activities, and help with life skills like cooking and money management.

Supportive housing was created by non-profits around the country as a more holistic response to homelessness. Approximately 70% of homeless single adults in the United States have problems like mental illness, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS — problems which contribute to their homelessness. By offering a variety of support services designed to address these issues, supportive housing has paved the way for a more effective approach to preventing homelessness....

Two long-term government studies have shown that more than 83% of the homeless individuals placed in supportive housing have remained in permanent housing and have reintegrated themselves into mainstream society.”

See the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

Common Ground and the Architectural League of New York are currently running an open competition to design a new “prefabricated individualized dwelling unit.” The registration deadline is July 11, 2003. The design entry submission deadline is 10 AM, August 25, 2003.

“Up to four competition winners will be chosen. Winners will each receive a cash prize of $2,000 and will be engaged to develop their proposals for manufacture and installation at the Andrews House, a lodging house on the Bowery in Manhattan, for which they will be paid a design fee. An exhibition of entries will be mounted in Manhattan in October 2003, and displayed on the competition website. A publication documenting the competition may also be produced.”

See the First Step Housing Web site for more detail.

>  30 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Green, Low-Income Housing in Santa Monica

Colorado Court is a 5-story, 44 unit single room occupancy apartment complex for low income tenants in Santa Monica. It is also one of the first buildings of its kind in the United States that is 100% energy independent, generating nearly all its own energy for electricity, heat and light.

Architectural Review, November 1, 2002:

Coloardo Court“In both siting and form, the building has been designed to exploit passive environmental control strategies such as natural ventilation, maximizing daylight and shading south-facing windows. But it also incorporates a number of innovative energy generation measures, notably a natural gas-powered turbinecum-heat recovery system that generates the base electrical load and services the building’s hot water needs. Photovoltaic panels set in the walls and roof supply most of the peak-load energy demand. This co-generation system converts natural gas into electricity to meet the building’s power needs. The same system also captures and uses waste heat to produce hot water and space heating for residents throughout the year. Unused energy from the photovoltaic panels is returned to the grid during the day and retrieved at night as needed. The architects estimate that these energy generation and conservation systems will pay for themselves in less than 10 years and annual savings in electricity and natural gas bills should average around $6000....

Details such as fluorescent lights which automatically extinguish when a room is not in use, insulation made from recycled newspapers, a bike store, CFC-free refrigerators and a trash recycling room reinforce the evangelical message. As many of the technologies are relatively unproven, it is hoped that in its intelligent exploration of the potential of sustainability, the building will act as a successful demonstration project for developers, planners, politicians, architects and, most especially, the wider public.”

The apartments themselves are 375 square feet studios with a kitchenette and a small bathroom. Shared areas include a lounge, laundry, and courtyard.

The project falls under Santa Monica’s “Sustainable City Program” which tries to reduce electricity and water consumption, and install photovoltaic cells on in public and private projects.

Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2001:

“A host of public and private entities—including the cities of Santa Monica and Irvine, Southern California Edison and the California Energy Coalition—are involved in planning, funding and monitoring the innovative building. The two cities, the conservation group and the utility have formed a group known as Regional Energy Efficiency Initiative, which has contributed about $250,000 to energy-saving devices in the building. In addition, Santa Monica itself is contributing about $250,000 toward electricity generators.

The building will be loaded with energy-saving and environmentally benign or ‘sustainable’ devices. Heat from the micro-turbine will produce hot water, eliminating the need for a conventional water heater....

Coloardo CourtPrevailing breezes will cool the building, which will have no mechanical air conditioners. The U-shaped structure ‘acts like a giant wind scoop,’ said architect Larry Scarpa, a principal of Santa Monica-based Pugh & Scarpa.

In yet another ‘green’ flourish, the building will collect all the rainwater from the alley behind the property and funnel it into a series of underground chambers. The water will slowly percolate back into the soil, which will filter the pollutants from the water while preventing contaminated water from spilling into Santa Monica Bay. The drainage system was paid for separately by the city of Santa Monica.

The concept of a building that would be energy self-sufficient emerged about two years ago, when Santa Monica officials met with members of the California Energy Coalition. The city’s Housing Division, which funds construction of low-income housing, chose to make a low-income housing project into a dream project of ‘green’ construction, and Colorado Court became the target.

‘We needed a demonstration project because a lot of developers feel that the technologies are unproven,’ Raida said.

Colorado Court solar panelsA number of apartment buildings in Santa Monica and Irvine are to be equipped with energy-saving technology by the Regional Energy Efficiency Initiative, but the Santa Monica building is the only project attempting to provide its own power as well.

Rebates from the state Energy Commission helped defray the high cost of the energy-generating equipment. The state’s rebate on the solar panels, which cost about $225,000, will be about $62,000. The $57,000 micro-turbine and heat exchanger will yield a $15,000 rebate from Southern California Gas Co.

If recent research and development has yielded new ways of conserving energy and producing electricity, regulations and building codes have not kept pace.

In one instance, architects had to obtain special permission from the city to hang solar panels outside the exterior stairwells because building inspectors said the solar panels ‘enclosed’ the stairwells and triggered requirements for floors, ceilings and fire-rated walls.”

Santa Monica Mirror, December 6-12, 2000:

“[Architects] Pugh Scarpa Kodama and the Community Corporation have been working with the City of Santa Monica and Southern California Edison to come up with an ‘incentive-type’ plan, which would allot a certain amount of energy to each resident per month, and would award those who did not use the full amount with rebates on their energy bills....

Colorado Court’s units will rent for between $316 and $365. They will be available to low-income residents culled from the Community Corp’s waiting list, who meet the low-income requirements for this building. Twenty-two units will be rented to people making less than $12,775 yearly, another 22 to those making less than $14,600 yearly (these figures are based on 35 - 40% of the current median income of $36,500). According to Raida, the typical demographic for a building such as Colorado Court would include full time workers earning minimum wage, and people on fixed incomes such as retirees and the disabled.

The Community Corp’s waiting list currently numbers over 1,000 people.”

It’s great that the org’s and the city could pull together $5.8 million to build high-tech, green, low-income housing. But, experimenting on the poor for their demonstration project? Is this the flip side of environmental racism? Get some low-income tenants to live inside your the unproven technology? No air conditioning in Southern California? An experimental powerplant in the basement, and less-than-fire-rated exterior walls... that cover a fire exit? Evangelical indeed.

>  25 May 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , , ,

Stylish Housing that Fights Pollution

TangoHow do you turn massive liability into a premium asset? Green, green, green.

Take contaminated industrial brownfield, haul away 5 feet of poisonous dirt, add architecture and planning firm, solar heating, wind power, green roofs, gardens that extract pollutants from the soil, huge argon-insulated windows, a view of the coastline and Web accessible remote control.

Then stand back and marvel at the chic elegance of Tango, a designer housing complex in Malmo, Sweden. The complex also recycles its waste water into a rebuilt marsh ecology that mimics the development’s east side, the marshy ecology of the sound. In passing the article mentions that the construction methods and materials were “hewed to ecological building standards that Malmo had set for the district.”

It’s all very geeky and cool, but I look forward to the day when sustainable design is boring and mandated outside of northern Europe, too, not just left to showcase projects that benefit those that can rent at three times the market rate or that make great PR when they pave over industrial contamination.

>  22 May 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Design Against the War

Over a year ago I attended a lecture on design at the Cooper Union. The speaker projected a series of slides illustrating his minimalist design philosophy. One of the images was of the B-2 bomber. I was shocked and disturbed that a design philosophy would fail to take into account social, political, and economic contexts. Particularly of an object which, when used as intended, delivers massive death and destruction.

It prompted me to dig deeper into design and the public interest. And to start this Web log.

On evening of April 16, I arranged a panel discussion at Cooper titled “Design in the Public Interest / Design Against the War.” I invited three panelists to speak about their work as designers involved in the anti-war movement.

Visualize Your Family Members Waging War First up was Lee Gough, a printmaker, anti-war activist, and graphic artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She showed a series of prints from a portfolio-in-progress on the Iraq invasion and the war at home, called “The War Went Well.” Some of the images have been used in posters on the Web site Who Dies for Bush Lies“ and for Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people who are opposed to war in Iraq and who have relatives or loved ones in the military.

One image “Fight the War at Home” was inspired by a subway ride home from lower manhattan on September 11. Even as the towers had just been destroyed, there were still, as there had been for many years, homeless persons on the subway appealing to cityfolk to remember them, and to give. The image is a graphic reminder that some have been under domestic attack in our country for a long time, and that funds for the war on poverty pale in comparison to our “defense” budget. Another image, “Visualize Your Family Members Waging War” depicts a despondent soldier with a crutch being embraced by a woman. Lee’s expressive linocut style brings a gravity to the subject matter.

Lee commented on the challenges of choosing one’s message, for instance, noting the different context of “Bring the Troops Home” for troops that have been drafted vs. those who enlisted voluntarily.

One member of the audience raised the question of why U.S. flags and “being American” were the province of the pro-war movement, when large numbers of U.S. citizens were opposed to the war. I noted that I’d seen many anti-war demonstrators holding up flags and patriotism at rallies. On the Web, Who Dies for Bush Lies? effectively tackles effect of the war on U.S. soldiers and U.S. civilians, in addition to Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The danger was raised, though, of the rhetorical trap: the argument over who is “more American” can go back and forth forever, and quickly turning attention away from the crisis at hand.

Say No To War on IraqNancy Doniger has worked as an illustrator for almost 20 years, producing art work for newspapers, magazines, books, posters and T-shirts for both for-profit clients and not-for-profit groups. She is currently a member of Brooklyn Parents for Peace, for whom she created the “Say No to War Against Iraq” poster.

She also helped organize a community/family oriented workshop that gave kids and parents an opportunity to make anti-war art for protest marches. Adults and kids made signs and worked with a puppeteer to create a large paper mache dove, and lots of little doves held aloft on cardboard tubes.

Nancy showed some earlier examples of her work, including a forceful image against the FTAA, a stark two-color poster for a conference on the conflict in Israel and Palestine, and a bright, celebratory “Welcome Back to Brooklyn” poster.

She also showed a couple of iterations of the “Say No to War” poster. One implied the damage of war with flames, but the final version ultimately centered on the mass mobilization. She noted that, in contrast to other illustrations, her work on this piece progressed from representation to geometric abstraction to make the poster more inclusive, using large blocks of color instead of specific depictions of race and gender. She is currently working on a “Hate Free Zone” poster.

Nancy noted the effect of the “Say No to War” poster on her block. The block appeared to be a very pro-war, where “the flags are quick to come out.” But over time, the “Say No to War” poster began to appear in windows and doorways. I certainly noticed it up and down the block where my step-sister lives.

Nancy is also involved in upcoming anti-war event “WEARNICA.” Sponsored by Brooklyn Parents for Peace, on May 3, 2003 a group of artists will present original anti-war art executed on the backs of white cotton dress shirts. The shirts will be worn in public spaces around New York and the world. The event was conceived by Works on Shirts Project whose inspiration for the event came after Colin Powell insisted upon covering the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica during his warmongering speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations on February 5, 2003.

L.A. Kauffman is a staff organizer for United for Peace and Justice and designer of materials to promote the February 15 and March 22 marches in New York City. Her sticker and poster designs United for Peace and Justice can been seen on the streets across the New York City.

Leslie arrived at design through her work as editor of a progressive journal. She was inspired by the bold, clear graphics of Gran Fury and ACT-UP, and the use of those graphics on the street and at demonstrations, stage managing the events to push its imagery into the mainstream media. She claims she can not draw, so uses clip art in her graphics. The image of the blue pennant flag and black group have become a ubiquitous the city streets.

The idea behind a worldwide day of anti-war marches came out of the European Social Forum held in Florence this past November. At the Forum, the date February 15 was chosen as a date for anti-war demonstrations “in every capital.” What transpired was unexpected and unprecedented.

United for Peace and Justice had only just formed in the November of 2002, but it wasn’t January the group started working on the February 15 march. United for Peace and Justice“The World Says No” was the headline of the February 15 flyer design, accompanied by a list of cities taking part in the event. As news of the event travelled across the Internet, marches were planned in more and more cities. Leslie held up various versions of her February 15 design with more and more cities added. Ultimately, marches were held in 793 cities around the world on February 15. Of particular note is virtual absence of communication or coordination between the participating cities.

Leslie spoke of the focused purpose of the posters produced for the event: not to educated, but to mobilize. The flyers lack all superfluous text or argument, just the headline, time and place. The posters and stickers were not trying to change people’s minds, instead to reach out to people who were already against the war but had not yet taken action.

In addition to sticker and flyers, palm cards cut from 1/4 page xerox copies on blue paper were popular and successful. They are both cheaper and more effective — easier to stuff in your pocket, less burdensome on the counter tops of sympathetic shopkeepers.

For the February 15 march, 200,000 stickers were distributed in 5 weeks. For the March 22 march, 200,000 stickers were distributed in 3 weeks. Astonishing numbers, posted around town by a continual flow of volunteers through the office. It’s also a useful bench mark: this is how many it takes to spread the message. A month later, I’m still finding remnants of UPfJ stickers on walls and phone booths. Leslie noted the effect of thousands of little acts of civil disobedience for the spirit of protestors, slowly bolstering a spirit of resistance around in the City and specifically, against the police department ban on marching past the U.N. on February 15.

In total, 1.1 Million pieces of literature distributed. Almost all of the printed materials were bilingual: English on one side, Spanish on the other. However, materials were also produced in Korean, Spanish, French, Creole, and Chinese. Quite a few donations for all these production expenses came online via paypal.

The question was raised about the environmental impact of producing all those printed materials. Her response: it’s also better for the environment if the war is prevented.

Pie ChartOther examples of design projects were raised by members of the audience: a “Do Not Bomb Iraq” sticker to replace the “Do Not Lean On Doors” sticker in NYC subway cars; colorful logos, charts and imagery designed by Stefan Sagmeister for “Move Our Money,” a campaign to reallocate 15% of the U.S. military budget for education; and flyers handed out to tourists at ground zero with a graphic representation of the number of teachers aides that will be cut from City’s budget. The image leaves it to the viewer to make to the connection to the military expense of a war in Iraq.

Many spoke of the importance of New Yorkers being seen as against the war. September 11 was an attack on New York, and the war is being waged in our name. Others spoke of the urgency of independent media, and the challenge of reaching out beyond “preaching to the converted.”

Overall, I was struck by how spontaneous the designers’ actions were. In almost every case, the designers simply stepped forward and got involved: signs made for a rally were eagerly snapped up; hundreds of thousands of stickers eagerly taken and distributed; and, “Say No to War” posters popped up on an otherwise apparently pro-war street. It seems that one doesn’t necessarily have to change everyone’s minds. There are more “converted” than you think. They just don’t have the graphic materials to display yet.

About 50 people came to the event, a decent turnout despite the announcement from the Pentagon the previous day that “the major fighting” in Iraq was over... and the fact that I’d scheduled the event on the first night of Passover. (Such a Jew am I.) The arc of the event could have used a better closing at the end, as well as a better transition between panelists. I also noted the lack of diversity in the audience. I think next time, I should hold it at different time and place. I’m also quite pleased with the invite design. Peel off the event description and you’re left with an anti-war sticker. Many thanks to Photobition for helping hammer this out in time.

One purpose of the event was to connect artists, designers, and activists. I’m disappointed more Cooper students didn’t show, but after the event quite a few people milled around having these intense little conversations until I kicked everyone out to close the room and return the lights. And quite a few people asked me what was next. Perhaps the start of a new Committee to Unsell the War?

>  21 April 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , , , , ,

Under Orders

“Today, in Venezuela, the uniformed Armed Forces build housing and infrastructure. It’s interesting; one of the key demands of the ‘opposition’ is to prohibit the army from building houses! The poor cheer when the military enters their neighborhoods, because they’re usually coming to build some houses. Not, like before, when they came to round up the dissidents and repress the social movements.”

This interview on Indymedia prompted me to do a little googling.

President Chavez’s Plan Bolivar 2000 is part public works administration, part poverty reduction plan, part fight against corruption. Despite Venezuela’s immense oil reserves, 80% of the population lives in poverty. To execute the plan, Chavez brought in military officers to bypass civilian agencies he considered corrupt. The military are working with communities and civilian engineers to build and repair roads, schools, housing, and medical centers around the country.

Critics charge that the plan has just shifted the corruption to the military. Chavez has acknowledged incidents of corruption and has ordered the Auditor-General of the Republic to investigate. Other internal investigations have taken place, though are staffed by military officers investigating other military officers. In response to charges, Chavez announced he will reduce ‘secret’ military spending and that more expenditures will be made public.

I’m having a hard time finding data on the status of the project, but one Captain estimates that Bolivar 2000 has already rebuilt or refurbished some 4,000 schools, clinics and hospitals.

>  18 January 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Roofless in Tokyo

House by the river

Since the collapse of the bubble economy, the number of homeless in Japan has risen from 1,000 in 1992 to over 30,000 in 2002. The long recession means a severe shortage of unskilled day labor in construction and manufacturing. The average age of the homeless here is 55 and they are almost entirely men. What little day labor there is usually goes to younger men. With no work, no money, and no where to go, the men buid their own shelter on public land along the boardwalk by the river and along the edges of the few public parks near the employment brokers (both legal and illegal). The houses are neat and trim, built to fight the weather and cold and to provide some basic comfort. They are also collapsible. Once a month the government comes and sweeps the houses off the boardwalk. It’s usually the same day every month, so the guys dismantle their houses and haul the materials over the wall... to rebuild them later that afternoon.

The houses are tucked away behind fences and under bridges to be less visible, and are kept neat in a conscious effort not to disturb passersby. Unlike in the States, I’ve not encountered any panhandling. They may be hungry, they may be desperate, but some things are just not done.

Row of houses along the boardwalkAlmost all the structures use the same blue vinyl tarp. The tents in the parks are looser and less constructed than along the river, presumably because the sweeps in the parks take place weekly.

The situation is utterly absurd... but not unlike that of my own neighborhood. There’s no place to go, says the City, you just can’t stay here.

After a mass eviction in 1993, the “Coalition of the Homeless in Shinjuku” was formed to provide mutual support, to seek livelihood and employment guarantees, and to stop the evictions, referred to by the government as “environmental cleaning.” After years of denying the problem, the national government passed a controversial law in August 2002 to provide some relief. Still, the evictions continue and the additional shelter has not yet been built. It remains to be seen how the new measures will proceed. The guys don’t want handouts, they just want work, affordable housing, and to be treated with respect.

Read more about the Movement of the Coalition of the Homeless on the Web site of the Resource Center for Homeless Rights.

>  28 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Archie Loves Betty, Veronica, and the FBI

Since 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America has issued a Comics Code Authority Seal to comics submitted by publishers which meet the standards of the Comics Code. In practice, the Code was used as a tool of censorship, since it was nearly impossible to sell unapproved comics to newstands and mass merchandisers. With the rise of specialty comic book stores in the mid-80’s, most publishers have opted out of the Comics Code.

The code was updated in 1971 and again in 1989. The 1989 version adds:

“In general, recognizable national, social, political, cultural, ethnic and racial groups, religious institutions, law enforcement authorities will be portrayed in a positive light. These include the government on the national, state, and municiple levels, including all of its numerous departments, agencies and services; law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, the Secret Service, the CIA, etc.; the military, both United States and foreign; known religious organizations; ethnic advancement agencies; foreign leaders and representatives of other governments and national groups; and social groups identifiable by lifestyle, such as homosexuals, the economically disadvantaged, the economically privileged, the homeless, senior citizens, minors, etc.”

CPB notes, “DC Comics and Archie are the publishers who still abide by the Code to portray the CIA, ethnic advancement agencies and the economically privileged in a positive light.”

>  22 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Road House

Pilot projects in Fife, Scotland and on the South Downs outside Brighton, UK are building low-cost housing from old tires. 40 million tires are discarded each year in Britain alone “enough free building material to construct 20,000 low-cost homes a year.” Known as “earthships” The new houses are “capable of functioning entirely independent of mains services such as electricity, water and sewage.” Read more from the Low Carbon Network and the Craigencalt Farm Ecology Centre, the organizations working the projects.

Found via Also Not Found in Nature.

>  21 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Moscow Underground

Some links about the “Diggers of the Underground Planet,” a group of urban adventurers exploring the tunnels beneath Moscow. Discoveries include a 3,000 seat bunker under a cathedral, deserted chemical warfare labs, ancient stashes of skulls, alternative housing, a ring of metro stations never used by the public, and possibly a mass grave from the Stalin era.

Found via Metafilter.

>  13 June 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Architects Without Borders

Arquitectos sin Fronteras is a non-profit that organizes professional architects and technicians who develop and promote the study, planning, management, design, and construction of public works projects in regions affected by poverty, discrimination, natural disasters and armed conflict. Volunteers work on everything from schools and public housing to hospitals and latrines in places from Congo to India to Peru.

>  2 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

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