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Rethinking Design for Social Housing to Make Better Communities

Different models of public housing have been planned and constructed over the years, ranging from Le Corbusier's inspired super-blocks to less dense low-rises. Often, the less dense form of housing has been designed with separate entries, limited communal or shared space, and an abundance of parking lots. As social housing has evolved, so has the family formation and composition.  The nuclear family no longer represents the most common and typical family formation, and we are seeing a rise in more diverse household arrangements and single-parent homes. In addition, affordable public housing has been known to serve the traditionally known minority population, but that is no longer the case.

The shift in population and demographic change surely indicates the need for a comprehensive inclusion of all groups such as older single adults, multi-generational kinfolk living together, young single professionals, and single-parent families. The change in family formation should be adequately addressed through social housing by means of architecture design and construction.

Riverside Plaza Minneapolis

In many American cities, traditionally designed public housing has become infamous for its inadequate construction via poorly designed corridors, which have been known to invite illegal activity and crime, as well as poorly chosen, isolating locations and lack of green space. The house design has further evolved to further eliminate daily interaction between neighbors via separate entryways and lack of shared spaces. In order to achieve a dynamic community, housing needs to become an integral part of urban and neighborhood fabric. The social integration needs to occur by design and through elements, which will encourage daily interaction and opportunities for children to play outside with eyes constantly on the street.

For this reason, the following is a list of recommendations to be incorporated into future design of public housing:

  • The replacement of large surface lots with shared green space and playgrounds;
  • The inclusion of educational and agricultural elements, such as urban rooftop farms, gardens, and beehives;
  • An open space concept, with windows for the interior and the exterior of the building;
  • Flexible design to better accommodate the different family formations and single occupants;
  • Outdoor elements, such as chairs and tables;
  • Complete infrastructure to accommodate pedestrian movement and access;
  • Bike parking conveniently located for better access to transit stops;
  • And interior and exterior space to provide opportunities for social interaction and activity.

The issue of affordable or social housing will become more apparent and raise important questions in terms of accommodating various group populations as time goes on. How will this change affect future design and better integration into the overall fabric of the city?

Credits: Photogaph by Jasna Hadzic. Data linked to sources.