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Archetype for Affordable Housing // Wade Byers


Conceptual design sketch by Brock Traffas

Abstract: You order a pizza. Someone takes your order and asks you “what do you want?”, you say “I want a pizza with everything on it.” Your ideal pizza can and will be made, but for a cost. The cost is too much for you, so you begin to take toppings off your pizza and soon enough you are down to a regular cheese pizza because that all you can afford. Architecture is very similar. Architectural concepts begin with abstract ideas of all the buildings’ possibilities, reality is what it becomes, but the path from concept to reality drops many ideas off the drafting board. How can a design constitute as affordable housing?


Audience: The Design+Make studio is a group of eclectic individuals who all have their own ideals of what architecture is should be. Our studio had become a melting pot of ideas, problems, and solutions from which we have designed our Waldo affordable housing project. Developers have a position of power to influence the built world around them. Affordable housing is a rising crisis in our nation and developers can help solve this epidemic

"Archetype for Affordable Housing"


Competitions are meant to bring out the best in people and designs. Many architectural projects begin as design competitions in which a client has a project who wants to see it completed, so they open a competition to bring out the biggest and best design ideas. The competition brings many architectural minds to pursue a vision that is representative of great architecture and meets the client's desires. Our studio, Design+Make, has begun on that process of creating and implementing architectural ideas that shed light on the housing crisis of affordable housing. This crisis of affordable homes has become the largest scope of work the Design+Make studio has ever done before. The project description: create an affordable housing project within the Waldo neighborhood located in Southern Kansas City. The project is with real clients, with real money, with real risks, and we are the ones in charge. Throughout the first semester we were split into four teams, in which each team would design and persuade our client into believing our project was the best, but by the end of the semester, only one team could survive.

Conceptual design sketches by Brock Traffas

Each group brought many design ideas to the table, with each having merit on their own. One group's concept was a communal living opportunity for the Kansas City area. A place where the young can live in a collaborative, yet independent lifestyle in which they could rent an affordable place from where they could begin their young professional life. This idea was genius in creation because it could be the place to start a trend in the Midwest. The clients agreed but determined that this is mostly a West Coast trend that would take a long time to be fully integrated and appreciated in the Midwest. Another Iteration created a living situation like the collaborative duplex living proposal, but had more of a sense of ‘yours vs mine’ in shared spatial spaces. The runner up proposal was an iteration in which there was a clear distinction of what is “mine, yours, and ours”. This distinction created two separate buildings that were connected through a unifying facade articulation presenting a front door with a shared outdoor area between the two units. This design proposal created an intent that was creative and served the functional needs of the duplex but ended up having the potential to become very costly. The winning design proposal took on the cognitive spatial thought of “everything you need, nothing you don’t.” This design focused on the tenants within the duplex using every inch of created space to its full potential so it will minimize on cost of labor and materials, two things which affect the design later down the road. Competition was necessary to provide the groundwork in which a design could become an archetype for an affordable housing prototype.


The design began with the idea of everything you need, nothing you don’t with a spatial concept where everything you needed was in a convenient location in the middle of the duplex which coined the term ‘core’. This iteration placed the amenities of everyday object centered in this core. The amenities include a bathroom, kitchen, storage, utility closet, washer, dryer, and storage on top - as imagined in the first image. The spaces surrounding this box would then be flux spaces that were diverse in nature and could always change so the environment of the bedroom and living/dining room never stayed the same. Then came a functional problem of providing water, electrical, and plumbing to the core items, so the design was changed to work smarter and not harder. We created a new design approach in which the ‘core’ is represented by having it detached from the living environment, fixated on the party wall, yet still have an ease of spatial flow from one place to the next. This new design became fruitful because the methodology created a logical approach to functional needs to help stay within budget. Through design development we cut the building size down to 610 square feet per apartment to fit better with our ideas of only using ‘everything you need and nothing you don’t’ in terms of space. Each space is sized correctly to be the most efficient and comfortable space possible so our floor plan saves square footage and final built cost. This design decision was created for many reasons, one was considering the people needing affordable housing. Taking them into account, they would typically be people who would have a hard time filling up a lot of space with their possessions. We eliminate that stress by downsizing which helps with overall cost and space issues. By addressing each space, putting ourselves in the place of the tenant, we sized rooms based on activities associated in each room. This creates an efficient floor plan that can be replicated for the continuation of affordability.


Budget is the make it or break it part of every affordable housing project. We went through a lengthy process to understand our budget. This was for two main reasons, one being we knew where the money was going, and the other realizing how strapped for cash we truly were. To mitigate our restrictive budget, we went out of our way to price match, ask for donations, and endure hard hours of physical labor. We found products that we know we wanted inside out duplex which would stray away from the norm of affordable housing materials by discovering where we can get the best, most efficient, and affordable materials around. We were also able to call up companies to explain our cause and ask for donations which will help ease the choke hold the budget has placed on us. While materials are a huge concern for budget, so is labor costs. We found the best way to mitigate labor cost is to do the work ourselves. We are a group of thirteen individuals each with a different skill set and potential for growth within our construction knowledge. As a group, we help contribute to the idea of affordability by being the taskmasters in construction work from the designs we created. Managing on site work, and asking for donations and discounts created a standard that can be implemented from volunteers and construction workers that contribute to the growth of affordable living.


Affordable housing is no easy task, it is one that is under constant scrutiny to be sure we will maintain an affordable housing stance, but it can be done. It’s done through competition to bring out the best conceptual design forward that signifies that baseline of where the design should head to. Affordable housing is completed through innovative and smart design that creates spaces that can be considered the goldilocks rule; spaces that are just right. Lastly, affordable is done through charity work. It takes special individuals to realize that there are people that are less fortunate than themselves and make a stance to do something about it. This is how we created an archetype for affordable housing.

Written by Wade Byers

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