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Affordable Architecture // Doan Pham


One of the things we take for granted is a place that’s called home. It serves a very important human need as it keeps us protected from the elements, but what happens to this basic need as it becomes an equation in a capitalism economy? In this time and day, we have a problem where the cost of living is increasing immensely, which may surpass inflation. Being a Californian I understand very well that rent is a significant portion of your income, often times more than half of your income. Marcus & Millichap predicted in 2015 that rent in Los Angeles will climb 4.8 percent overall, "more than doubling the rate of inflation" (Curbed). In another research by David Alpert of Botwin Commercial Development, in which we are in collaboration in the Waldo Affordable Housing duplex quotes that “Rental rates in the Kansas City Area are increasing at a rate of 5.3% (as compared to the national average of 3.4%) with the highest increases hitting the neighborhoods with the lowest incomes.” If this trend continues, the American dream of owning a home is all but lost. Why is it so hard to make architecture affordable?

Los Angeles. This is home for me.

Going back to the Los Angeles area, the shortage of housing is partially attributed to the lucrative high end housing market in which is pays off much better dividends than low income housing. When an old house or building is demolished, you would assume a house of similar value in be in its place. This happens to be not the case anymore as more expensive homes are built instead. Forbes magazine says that “From 2011 to 2016, the median home price will have risen by 42% compared to the median household income gain of only 17%,” with this said, I truly believe that we must live smaller but at the same time more efficient homes as do the Europeans. Why must we have a bedroom so large to accommodate everything? European bedrooms are very basic as it is only a place to sleep, whereas the extra space is allocated to social space such as the living room or kitchen. We must rethink how the typical home to the necessary essentials. The 3 basic principles for all architecture projects is scope, time, and cost. In reference to the Waldo Affordable Housing project that we are currently building in Kansas City, we’ve primarily changed the scope of the project to make it more affordable. Scope is referred to the complexity or quality of a project. With a limited budget on hand, we had to distill our home to its simplest form.

What most see as "typical" housing back home.

Architecture is comprised of many trades and crafts, for this, it has become quite a complex beast in itself. Thinking deeper, is architecture a living machine or a machine that sustains life? For several years of trying to understand, while experiencing architecture in school and during my travels this past year in Europe, I’ve come to believe that we have a symbiotic relationship with architecture. As an inanimate object to some, I see it living and breathing like the rest of us. We are like the cells in the body that move from one organ (architecture) to the next when we zoom out in scale. The amount of natural resources is becoming more apparent to be limited and scarce as we consume them in mass quantities. For many homes that are of lower cost, they are built with very low quality materials so that we can achieve these grand space we desire. In result of this type of consumerism, the cost is lower in the short run, while in the long run, it is quite expensive to upkeep and maintain. Why is that not many are willing to experiment and create newer ways to build good architecture while making it affordable for everyone? Instead of building fewer high end homes, we can build in higher quantity using a system that works when we simplify and consolidate spaces.


What are the consequences if we do not solve this problem in the near future? For those who are unable to make dues with increasing rent and housing cost, they will eventually be moved out further away from the city, causing urban sprawl. These important members that contribute to the community that are lost, not only they are forced away, but time and money is wasted on commuting to work. This causes a strain on our unrenewable natural resources. In the worst case scenario, they move to an undesirable neighborhood that is not safe because it was it is the only place they can afford. Many low income programs such as HUD Section 8 and Habitat for Humanity is very limited to a select few. These programs only address the poorest of people, but the lower end of the middle class suffer the most as they are cut off from receiving government financial help because they are barely over the income bracket. Everything must come out of pocket for this income class which in result, makes them actually poorer than ones that the poorest of people who get assistance and/or subsided for almost everything.

We've learned small, efficient spaces can be just as successful as the ones above - sometimes even better.

Written by Doan Pham

In many other countries that higher density living, people find ways to live smaller as a consequence of limited resources. The way of living small forces you to rethink what is necessary because of space constraints. We have been spoiled as a wealthy first world country and not worry about waste because everything was once easily disposable and quickly replaced. When we zoom out on all these issues, we realize that there are many things beyond the cost of building and design that affects the cost of having affordable architecture. We must simplify and put more thought which bring meaning in order to sustain life and coexist with architecture.



(1) "45 Small Bedroom Design Ideas and Inspiration." Modern Interior Design & Furniture - Decoist. N.p., 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

(2)  Wattenhofer, Jeff. "Los Angeles Rent Increases Set to Double Inflation For 2015." Curbed LA. Curbed LA, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

(3) Hepburn, Chris. Los Angeles Skyline Cityscape at Dusk, California, USA. N.d. E+, Los Angeles. Los Angeles Travel & City Guide | Restaurants, Shopping & Things to Do. Web. 12 Feb. 2017. <>. 

(4) "Large Bedroom Design." Interior Design Ideas. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017. <>. 

(5) "Contemporary Furniture For Small Living Room Style." N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017. <>. 



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