Living Well in the Margins
In most any area, it’s generally best to look to the margins, not the center, for innovative thinking. Small space architecture is no different. Conventional architecture is too often big and boring, victim of zoning restrictions and/or design driven by the interests of developers rather than residents. One place to find consistently interesting “marginal” architecture is supportive housing–a type of government-funded housing for populations that need, ahem, extra support. Supportive housing usually enjoys less restrictive building code restrictions than conventional housing and because it’s not for sale, it is not necessarily bound to imitate what everyone else is doing in the market, often resulting in innovative, community-centric, compact architecture. La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing in Washington DC is a great example of such a beast. It’s an attractive, smartly-designed apartment building that happens to be supportive housing serving homeless men.
The seven story La Casa was jointly designed by LEO A DALY and Studio Twenty Seven Architecture for the DC Department of Human Services. According to LAD’s website, they were challenged “to create a ‘home’ rather than an institution, and to ‘meet or exceed’ the quality of the adjacent market-rate apartments.” With bright, clean and smart interiors, their challenge appears to have been met.
The building will house 40 chronically homeless men, all of whom will have their own furnished efficiency apartments with kitchens and bathrooms. The units are designed to create a sense of home and permanency, rather than serving as a stopover in some institution in a never ending cycle of homelessness. It will employ the “housing first” service model. Whereas many supportive housing communities require sobriety or other conditions for eligibility, housing first has no such conditions, acting under the belief that when housing and counseling services are in place, it can provide the security and dignity that will act as gateways for an improved life.
Even the design was meant to be rehabilitative. Jim Spearman, La Casa’s project architect at Studio Twenty Seven Architecture, said “From the exterior, large and individualized windows on the façade identify particular spaces to which occupants can point and exclaim, ‘That is where I live!’”
Beside the efficiency apartments, there is a welcoming lobby on the ground floor, support offices and a mail area. There is also a community room on the second floor that opens onto an outdoor terrace. “A green roof contributes to the design’s LEED-Gold certification,” according to LAD, and “Security is provided by a combination of security officers, remotely monitored cameras, and secured door access.”
La Casa recently won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2015 Housing Award in the Specialized Housing category. The project is great because it’s not just a nice place for someone accustomed to living on the streets–it’s a great place for anyone to live.
Images via Studio Twentyseven Architecture