“I do believe in the American Dream… Owning a home is a part of that dream; it just is. Right here in America, if you own your own home, you’re realizing the American Dream.” President George W. Bush, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA., 2002
Two of the overarching problems facing humanity today are the climate crisis and rising inequality. Inequality is growing in all levels of society across the globe, and as the impacts of climate change are becoming more and more obvious, those who have the least will be the ones who feel it most. Part of finding solutions to these problems is to be able to discover new ways of living together - how do we create a common solution? Many of the prevailing ideas about housing from the 20th century are no longer sustainable, socially or environmentally. But how did we end up here and what can we learn from our past? What do we require from a home and can we imagine a different future? Housing is important, but why focus my research at the UdK Berlin on the housing situation in Los Angeles, California?
1. THE HOUSING CRISIS IS UNAVOIDABLE IN LA. California is home to one of the most severe housing crises in America. On any given night there are around 60.000 people sleeping in cars, shelters or on the streets, and an average household spends 47% of their income on housing. There is no one in LA who is not impacted by the housing crisis.
2. LA IS STILL YOUNG. As LA based architect Michael Maltzan states it: “the relationship between housing and the city at large is still emerging” - meaning it it could still be open to adapting again.
3. BIRTHPLACE OF SHARED NARRATIVES. If it is necessary to rewrite the narratives we tell ourselves about housing and what a good life means, what better place to do it than at the heart of the modern American storytelling tradition?
4. FUTURE HOME. I also wanted to take this semester an opportunity to learn about things I am eager to learn more about. I am in the process of trying to imagine myself a new home in California, and the question of the housing crisis becomes difficult to ignore and is something I imagine will become a big part of my personal and professional life whether I am prepared for it or not.
To begin, I spent some time researching what a home means, in order to better understand what homelessness means. Building on research from Kimberly Dovey from 1985, I am proposing that a home can be seen as a series of connections. Connections to place and people, the past and the future. When these connections are lost or damaged, the feeling of home is lost.
But the sense of home only makes sense seen in relation to the outside world. What is not home helps give character to home - creating a symbiotic relationship. Often a home will have a threshold - a front porch, a front garden, a stairwell - acting as a buffer zone that can be seen as extending to the streets, the squares, the communities, and can play an important role in defining your home.
“Another change that has subtly eroded the sense of home is the decline of communally shared open space. The usage and control of streets, squares, and open spaces that form the context of the house were freely negotiated traditionally and appropriated by people through their participation in the community” (Aries, 1977; Sennett, 1977)
The project is an effort to understand the development of LA as it relates to housing and builds on the theory of the Third LA - a thesis that divides the history of modern LA into three eras. The first LA runs from the beginning of the modern city in the late 1880s; the second LA covers the post-war period and includes all the classic tropes of LA including the suburban houses and freeways; the third LA is the current period which starts at the beginning of this century - in which the city attempts to reinvent itself for a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable future. The presentation was centered around a timeline showcasing dominating and alternative narratives of living in LA, covering three areas: social, home, and utopia. Each of the historical narratives and events I looked at were presented in small booklets containing text, illustrations and photographs.
Spending much of the semester trying to understand the housing question and its context in LA throughout history, I wanted to spend the last weeks of the semester trying to come up with an architectural response: not a solution to all the problems - but an attempt to find a vision for another tomorrow by drawing inspiration from some of the narratives of the past. Throughout time, much of housing in LA has been built by small private initiatives, as examplified in the spread of Dingbats. It has also proved difficult to build large public housing projects politically, as seen in the history of Elysian Park. Still, there is a strong need for more housing as well as a lack of shared public spaces in many areas of the city.
In LA of today, alleyways has often lost their function. There is an estimated number of 914 miles of alleys in Los Angeles, a large proportion of which could be developed into a secondary street system. By transforming the alleyways into spaces that can be used not only for accessing new housing from the back of existing properties, but also safe public spaces, the neighborhood can be improved for all current and future inhabitants. In order to encourage participation in the project, property rich but cash poor homeowners are given the opportunity to build a housing unit in the garden with support from local government in form of grants, cheap loans and project management - in exchange for renting out the housing units to housing voucher receivers. They are also offered additional units that will benifit both the homeowners and the neighborhood.
Housing Units of different sizes and configurations can be placed on the properties (left). The owners can then also add separate elements that add to the community and the overall liveability of the block (right).
Example of how two properties might look after the addition of housing units and community units along the back of the property.
Section showing the new streetscape running through each block, creating a walkable and livable addition to the neighborhood.
Perspective: by giving property owners an inceentive to build not just housing but also community units for gardening, work spaces, community spaces, small business premises, child care and so on, new connections are forged between neighbors as well as visitors.