“Mobility is resilience.” Lorenzo Guadagno at t he U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.
“There is no more natural and fundamental adaptation to a changing climate than to migrate.” NYTimes
“…many of these wandering souls were trying to escape an economic paradox: the collision of rising rents and flat wages, an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object.” – Jessica Bruder, Nomadland: Surviving America i n t he Twenty First Century.
This studio will propose prefabricated housing systems as a response to 1) unmet housing needs today and 2) the inevitability of migration as a form of climate adaptation and resilience in the future. Rather than invest in housing solutions that assume a permanent relationship to a specific site, the studio decouples home from notions of permanence. Housing will be designed for mass production, allowing students to engage questions of seriality, aggregation, and settlement patterns. Students will begin by designing a set of interrelated housing units to address the need for higher density housing in Los Angeles and will then develop larger housing arrays on a 70 acre brownfield site to explore the aggregate capacities of their systems. While motivated by contemporary social, political, and economic issues, the studio maintains a strong belief in architecture’s capacity to transform social experience with new arrangements of material, form, and environment. Our work will use research findings to inform the development of well-reasoned concepts that result in articulate and compelling material propositions.
As Bruno Latour writes in Down to Earth, “What is certain is that all find themselves facing a universal lack of shareable space and inhabitable land…Migrations, explosions of inequality, and New Climate Regime: these are one and the same threat.” In his recent book, Latour argues for an undeniable link between our bleak climate future and globalism, wealth disparity, political polarization, and the spread of nationalism and identity politics. Latour makes evident that climate change has already shifted political landscapes across the globe leading to migration, civil war and unrest, and migrant detention. Given this fraught planetary and international backdrop, this studio proposes new models of housing development that challenge the notion of permanence that typically accompanies housing production. This desire for permanence is manifest in economic and legal systems as well as architectural desires. We will question our collective desire to be rooted to privately held property, in cities we call home, even when the land on which we live is in peril.
The promise of homeownership is inextricably linked to Southern California where I live and work. However, the reality of life in Los Angeles is quite different. More than 75% of Angelenos rent housing, at a cost far exceeding the recommended 30% of household income. Yet 80% of Los Angeles’s residential land is restricted to single family occupancy. The city of Los Angeles recognizes this zoning map as an obstacle to affordability though there are many others. In order to offer alternatives to private ownership and its associated notions of permanence, we will evaluate a range of responses to known pressures that lead to migration: 1) lack of home ownership, 2) lack of housing and land affordability, 3) rising cost of living and rising economic and environmental insecurity, and 4) the economics of disaster response that encourages reinvestment in risk-prone property. This studio notes these circumstances not to avoid design but rather to motivate critical stances and architectural innovation. As future architects, this is the fraught, dynamic context in which your work will take shape. These are the issues facing our communities, our fellow citizens, and most, if not all, of us. While the topics are expansive and alarming, we will turn to design with optimism, envisioning built environments that offer alternatives to permanence and thinking critically about the advantages of mobility for climate resilience.
To decouple home and land from expectations of permanence, this studio will propose prefabricated housing systems designed for future mobility and new organizations of community made possible by high volume housing production and unit aggregation. The studio will explore prefabrication because it makes sense economically and exploits the economies of scale necessary to meet demands for housing. In the early 1950s, William Levitt produced affordable housing for returning veterans with inventive material procurement, the embrace of modern conveniences and an open air assembly line of trades working on repeatable units in series. The constraints of prefabrication introduces the design problem of housing seriality and increased urban density, both of which drive particular aesthetic and organizational effects. High volume prefabricated housing also allows us to articulate critical stances regarding how we might live, how work and living are organized, how people coexist within and between units, and how our communities will adapt as we confront climate risks. We will propose repeatable, yet flexible housing aggregations to increase LA’s housing supply in the short term and to accommodate the inevitability of migration as we imagine our future climate caravans.
Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles’s competition, Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles, asked participants to reimagine the R-1 lot to expand housing supply and increase urban density while lowering housing costs. The R-1 zoning designation is applied to over 75% of residential land in Los Angeles, accounting for many of the environmental and transportation issues that impact the region. The city intends to use the ideas generated by the competition to generate public support of its proposed changes to R-1 zoning. Using the Low-Rise prompt, we will design prefabricated units to increase density in single family zones and as building blocks for larger site development.
Why prefab? Prefabrication mitigates some of the environmental impacts of construction, increases production while decreasing cost, and provides solutions for housing mobility. In 2018, California’s governor set an ambitious goal of adding 500,000 new units of housing annually with a goal of 3.5 million units by 2025. Current annual development statewide is less than 25% of this number. In total, the US has a deficit of at least 7.2 million units of affordable housing according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Tax incentives and public investment in private development has not resulted in sufficient supply even as it contributes to growing wealth inequality. Even if these policies were sufficient to meet current housing needs, they assume that housing will be built where people can and will live and that these places will be habitable for the duration of the building’s life cycle. Increasingly, extreme climate events and economic trends are challenging these assumptions. In the American West, record wildfire and drought is exposing both existing and new housing investment to higher risk. Further, land costs and contentious, lengthy development processes have driven housing costs upward and out of reach for the vast majority of Californians. Technology companies under government and public pressure for their impact on housing costs are now investing in housing research, adaptive reuse of commercial buildings for domestic use, and innovative housing delivery approaches for their communities and for potential profit. We will examine these investments as we study current trends toward prefabrication.
We will design prefabricated housing aggregates that anticipate the challenges of offsite manufacturing and future housing relocation. These considerations include site infrastructure (power, water, foundations,) structural integrity while in motion, transportation constraints, housing setup and breakdown, variable spatial and programmatic needs, and social patterns when aggregated. We will study precedents that address prefabrication methods, site access and mobility, and unit aggregation including projects by MOS, William O’Brien, Heatherwick, The Now Institute, and more.
Site Test Beds: R-1 Lots typical of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, and the Burbank Car Cemetery
Our initial sites for distributing housing units will be in Los Angeles on site typologies outlined in Low-Rise. Specifically prefabricated units will be tested under two site scenarios: 1) To accommodate new fourplex units on single R-1 parcels and 2) To develop 6 to 8 units on two R-1 lots at corner parcels. Your designs for mobile aggregates will then be tested on a large 70+acre Burbank site, evaluating the organizational and social effects of larger housing arrays. Your housing systems will be designed to aggregate variably, producing a range of spatial and urban effects despite unit repetition. The studio will introduce design techniques that allow a variety of urban patterns to emerge from a small number of unit designs.
Each site proposal, regardless of unit density, will anticipate housing migration within 20 to 30 years. Unlike existing housing stock built between 60 and 100 years ago, our future climate caravans will retreat from the health and safety hazards of extreme climate in search of environments more conducive to habitation. Rather than abandon uninhabitable territories and its housing infrastructure, residents will travel with housing provisions, moving multiple times over the lifecycle of their residences. Your work is to imagine how this inevitability will shape their housing, their lives and their relationships to one another. Your proposals will thus foreground adaptability: of unit aggregation, of use, and to future sites and climates.
The city of Los Angeles will be the site of our architectural and urban analysis, studio travel, and design proposals. We’ll visit its historical and contemporary housing precedents including works from the Garden City movement, Case Study program, sprawling suburban fabric, multifamily housing, small lot development, and accessory dwelling program. Travel week will introduce you to Los Angeles’s housing genealogy and its urban conglomeration. Though numerous, LA’s housing experiments have yet to provide sufficient housing volume or affordability. The 2020 mean cost of housing statewide was over $800,000 on average, resulting in regional homeownership rates of 48.5%, the lowest rate of the 75 largest US metropolitan areas documented by the US Census. Further challenging its current housing crisis are climate-related risks, public resistance to density, and a growing epidemic of homelessness. Los Angeles will grow evermore inhospitable, experiencing more frequent and more intense drought, wildfire, heat, poor air quality, and declining public health. To ensure climate resilience, increasing housing supply will address current needs, prepare for arriving climate refugees to LA, and anticipates the eventual migration of people from LA to less vulnerable latitudes.
Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, 2018.
Wallace-Wells, David. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, 2020.
Lustgarten, Abrahm. “The Great Climate Migration has begun.” The New York Times, July 23, 2020. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/23/magazine/climate-migration.html
https://open.spotify.com/episode/2NbkLwZ5AmZIag25BdXDRU Zhao, Chloe. Nomadland, Feature film, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/11/12/million-americans-live-rvs-meet- modern-nomads/
Bruder, Jessica. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, 2017.
Bruder, Jessica. “Meet the Camperforce, Amazon’s Nomadic Retiree Army.” Accessed at https://www.wired.com/story/meet-camperforce-amazons-nomadic-retiree-army/ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/realestate/virus-sheltering-in-place-rvs.html https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/01/climate/disaster-shelter-red-cross.html https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-21/gavin-newsom-california-housing-cr isis-solution https://archive.curbed.com/2020/2/7/21125100/sb-50-california-bill-fail https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/data/ann20ind.html?utm_campaign=&utm_content =&utmmedium=email&utmsource=govdelivery
Students will be graded on a percentage basis for their studio contributions as follows: Attendance and participation 10%
Quality of individual research and conceptual argument 15%
Quality of design proposal as translation of conceptual ambitions 75%.
Three unexcused absences in any quarter will result in the loss of a full letter grade. Additional absences may affect a student’s ability to meet the minimum course requirements for a passing grade.
**All design work will be completed by students working in pairs. This will allow critics to spend more time with each team and students to propagate their housing proposals on sites requiring different unit numbers. In the event of an odd number of participants, there may be one group of three.