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Architecture + Homelessness

Axe2598

I wanted to find out other architects opinions on architectural solutions to homelessness, specifically in the UK. I have looked into the government schemes and programmes, even some case studies internationally, but trying to make a project that can really impact it is difficult.

 
Sep 25, 21 4:55 pm

There are no architectural solutions to homelessness.

Sep 25, 21 6:30 pm  · 
14  · 

This. 100% this.

Sep 25, 21 11:02 pm  · 
2  · 
natematt

Homes have nothing to do with architecture.

.... wait... 

Sep 26, 21 2:03 am  · 
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Homes have nothing to do with homelessness . . .

Sep 27, 21 2:36 pm  · 
2  · 
natematt

nothing.... at all.

Sep 27, 21 2:51 pm  · 
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Nope. Nothing at all. It's a social and economic issue. Architecture has nothing to do with it.

Sep 27, 21 7:54 pm  · 
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JLC-1

Homelessness is a public policy issue, not a design problem.

Sep 25, 21 6:47 pm  · 
9  · 

Public policy is by design.

Sep 25, 21 9:53 pm  · 
3  · 
JLC-1

the politician as an architect? or the supreme architect of francmasonry?

Sep 26, 21 1:24 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

it’s not difficult, it’s impossible. Pick a different topic for your homework.

Sep 25, 21 7:09 pm  · 
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so, seriously, I have been involved recently in interviews with many social services providers who deal with homelessness. During Covid, cities and governmental entities panicked and bought up a bunch of hotel room vouchers. It turns out putting homeless people in hotel rooms is *for the most part* an excellent solution. If services such as help with ID verification and veterans benefits and addiction counseling and whatnot, many of the reasons why people become homeless in the first place, can be included in the lobby and meeting spaces of hotels, then giving people a private room and bathroom is really most of what it takes to solve the problem. The architecture is unimportant beyond the fact that giving people privacy, a.k.a. dignity, is a huge determinant of success.


Granted, dignity also means a place that doesn’t feel provisional or prison-like or gross. A nice safe private space with a bathroom aka firmness utility delight.

Sep 25, 21 11:01 pm  · 
15  · 
chopshop

Edit: Oops, supposed to be a reply to Donna Sink's last comment.

https://www.designboom.com/arc...

I wonder if these units under one roof setups are a better solution as opposed to some cities (LA) proposing the self-contained micro-unit towers. Or ugh, those colorful garden sheds. Would the homeless benefit more from a social network in the long run? Even if the housing provide is a bit more ephemeral though no less considered. What do they need in the long run to try to establish themselves? 

Same goes for the families one or two payments away from eviction; and those hoping the courts don't evict them soon post-pandemic eviction moratorium. A lot of people can easily be homeless as bad things snowball.

Tackling homelessness directly may be a lost cause from the profession's side. Looking at ways to provide alternative ways to explore housing options and a support network may be useful. I don't want to turn a young person away from these issues, maybe get them on a different track that still helps examine the overall goals with a critical yet still open eye.

Sep 25, 21 11:57 pm  · 
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chopshop, what we've been told through a dozen interviews, including with people who are currently living outdoors or previously did, is that *anything* that looks like a prison or an institution is not going to work. So anything with a built-in bunk, no matter how architecturally clever, isn't appropriate. I don't have any specific feedback on tiny home, but I would think (my own opinion and conjecture, not based on research) that a tiny homes development that was similar to an encampment but also provided showers, bathrooms, laundry, and kitchen facilities could work. One reason breaking up ("clearing") encampments is so awful is that they *do* provide a sense of community, with self-made rules, and kindred care, and gossip, and networking, and all that humane stuff that ends up being denied when people are moved into shelters with a bunch of rules from above.

Sep 26, 21 1:47 pm  · 
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chopshop

I was looking more at the short-term issues as I don't know if trying to build expensive apartments is the right direction. Long-term, it sounds like the best bet may be to simply set aside land, build some tiny homes, and let an informal economy and network form instead of trying to manage everyone with caseworkers and stipulations. It may not lead to I guess 100% recovered future working taxpayers but seems people would be better off in this case.

Sep 26, 21 2:06 pm  · 
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betonbrut

https://www.the-block-project.org/ This has been moderately successful here in Seattle. I think it is one aspect of a solution to homelessness. Complex questions require complex and multi-faceted solutions. And to agree with others, Architecture isn't the solution, but can be part of the solution. 

Sep 27, 21 3:54 pm  · 
1  · 
z1111

The average age of a homeless person is 11.


It almost impossible to get a job if you don't have a fixed  address.


Most adult homeless people will solve their own problems if they are simply given a home.


Homelessness is not monolithic. 


Hotel vouchers solve part of the problem.


Chronic homelessness requires more types of services.


Every architecture solution I have seen makes me want to scream. 


As others have said it is a policy problem.


My 2¢

Sep 26, 21 9:25 am  · 
2  · 
natematt

Most adult homeless people will solve their own problems if they are simply given a home.

Sep 27, 21 2:54 pm  · 
1  · 
z1111

Do you agree nate?

Sep 27, 21 5:30 pm  · 
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b3tadine[sutures]

So long as we, Americans, labor under the toxic pathology of "Rugged Individualism" we will never solve the problem of the un-housed.

Sep 26, 21 12:16 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

While many homeless are too mentally ill for US-style home ownership, others--I know a few--would do just fine with a small, simple home on a few acres. But barriers to buying the land and a lack of available plots make it next to impossible.

I've thought a lot about carving a road through my 30-acre woodlot and setting up plots which could be anything from a flat site for a tent or used RV to a self-sufficient Passive House. I would rent the lots and/or look for grants. But my site is not ideal and I don't have the time or money to pursue it. Plus I'm concerned about things like illegal activities, noise and property values. I'm sure many others are the same--we'd like to do something, but it's not easy the way US rural zoning and taxation is usually set up.  

Sep 26, 21 12:51 pm  · 
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Axe2598

How about the idea of tiny homes?, i have seen several articles (https://www.yesmagazine.org/ec...) (https://www.archdaily.com/5912...) of the benefits of it and i wonder if tiny homes can be a solution as they are affordable, it may just be one factor in the topic of homelessness but it could allow a permanent address and a space of privacy

Sep 26, 21 12:57 pm  · 
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chopshop

If there's an interest, go for it. Worse case, you have a project and gain some insight. I would suggest trying to evaluate something approachable like smaller footprint housing or affordability and scale instead of a large complicated topic like homelessness. If people can't even provide an affordable home, how can anyone besides the wealthy or forever indebted attain it?

Sep 26, 21 1:35 pm  · 
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ae_0

It's a political issue. Are architects politicians? No. Should architecture engage and help calibrate political frameworks rather than staying at the tail end of a production line? I would like to think so. Nonetheless I think this is a institutional/economic/zoning issue first and foremost rather than an immediately architectonic one - but it shouldn't mean architectural knowledge can't engage with it.

Sep 26, 21 1:22 pm  · 
1  · 

It's an economic issue. Economics are controlled by politicians. Politicians are controlled by economics.

Sep 27, 21 12:10 pm  · 
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natematt

If anyone was actually in control, this wouldn't be an issue.

Sep 27, 21 3:15 pm  · 
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If anyone with a shred of humanity was in control this wouldn't be a problem.

Sep 27, 21 9:14 pm  · 
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Archinect

@Axe2598 you can find a lot of related reading on this topic here on Archinect, in our Features and News

Sep 27, 21 11:10 am  · 
1  · 
randomised

You don’t need architecture to provide homeless people with decent homes and proper (mental) health...it is quite arrogant to think architects can or should solve this. You have more influence as architect with your vote than with your job.

Sep 27, 21 12:34 pm  · 
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Which in the U$A means very little indeed.

Sep 27, 21 1:30 pm  · 
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natematt

It’s wild how dismissive people are of this topic. It’s almost like a large portion of the people in this thread have never worked on affordable housing projects, or shelters, or clinics, or anything targeted at trying to help homeless people.

Homelessness is not primarily an issue of architecture, I understand that it’s clear. However, I can’t wrap my head around people that say that they have nothing to do with each other. Architecture can’t solve homelessness, but it can play a part of how the issue is addressed. This isn’t putting a particularly high degree of importance on architecture within that process, like geez, there is a big space between a messiah complex and professional nihilism.

Sep 27, 21 3:14 pm  · 
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newguy

The simple solution to homelessness is housing. But housing that is tied to the private market that fundamentally reinforces private property rights in the interest of profit-seeking is diametrically opposed to the forces that seek to subsidize the burden of social housing. Architects cannot "design" their way out of a capitalist economic structure that prioritizes the rights of private land owners over the rights of society.


This is not so much cynicism as much as a sober observation of the economic status quo and the political structure that preserves it.


Spend a decent amount of time in literally any developer driven architecture office and you'll see that the primary motive of the developer is to maximize value per square footage, as opposed to maximizing the amount of housed citizens.  This is the conflict.

Oct 5, 21 4:26 pm  · 
3  · 
x-jla

There are 2 different types of homelessness.  


1. People whom are simply homeless due to financial circumstances.  That problem is more easy to solve with affordable housing.  


2.  People who are chronically homeless due to some mental illness or addiction, and unable to care for themselves.  That cannot be solved with brick and mortar alone.  


Rather than trying to “solve” or “end” homelessness, design has the most potential  to make homelessness more humane.  The built environment as we know it is hostile towards the homeless.  public spaces can be designed in ways to accommodate the homeless with basic needs, make spaces safer where they can have designated camps, and provide less concentration of homelessness.  The principals of how to do this are no different than any other design, just need to consider them as part of “the public” rather than some problem to “solve”.  

Sep 27, 21 6:43 pm  · 
6  · 
Wood Guy

One of the rare occasions when I agree with you. Well said. "The Public" includes everyone, not just those we find socially acceptable.

Sep 28, 21 8:05 am  · 
3  · 
DOSE

I would like to see architects in more seats of political power. We are better suited to providing all-encompassing solutions to issues in the way of facility, siting, and policy. I know we are in an age of great specialization, but perhaps Imhotep was onto something.

Oct 2, 21 3:29 am  · 
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Q: does a thesis actually need to solve a problem, or is "failure" in a learning environment acceptable so long as the student records and reflects on the shortcomings of their approach?

OR

Must all thesis projects be successful and not tackle wicked problems because in the real world that's not how it's done?

Oct 5, 21 7:02 pm  · 
2  · 

Tackle wicked problems. Just be sure your thesis can actually have an impact on them.

Oct 6, 21 10:02 am  · 
1  · 
midlander

i think it depends on the nature of the thesis and the willingness of the student to approach it holistically as a study of policy and social issues as they influence the distribution and use of land. someone who approaches it narrowly as a spatial design problem isn't going to learn nor produce anything of value. the overlap of land-use and planning policies is somewhere architects can develop insight.

Oct 6, 21 11:55 am  · 
2  · 
newguy

^that's what I did. I "designed" a solution, but my research also demonstrated the limitations of the design scope to solve societal issues. I chose a very specific location that had one architectural failure being demolished (high-rise housing projects, in my case) and then I critiqued the prevailing re-development plans that were currently being built (new-urbanism style low rise townhomes) and provided an alternative solution. So while my research cited the architectural theories on spatial issues and planning that you would expect, I also researched the economic and policy factors that created the initial urban blight to begin with and even posited the pending collapse of the neo-liberal led design solutions that were currently being bandied about as a "free market" solution, and concluded that the retreat of policy wonks from the responsibility of social housing left a void in housing policy filled by free-market developers who would go on to set the stage for massive gentrification in areas where the speculative value of land was/is prioritized over the needs of those who once occupied that land. So basically, I designed what I thought could work, but addressed the policy and monetary changes that would need to occur for the design to ever be possible (which would never happen, but that wasn't the point).

Oct 6, 21 1:54 pm  · 
2  · 

If we had answers to tackle wicked problems, they wouldn't be wicked....

Oct 6, 21 4:02 pm  · 
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On the fence

They could get jobs or something like that.

Oct 6, 21 9:15 am  · 
1  ·  4

Hush troll.

Oct 6, 21 10:01 am  · 
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midlander

you'd be surprised how many homeless people started off with jobs which they gradually lose after losing the home. not many jobs come with homes these days!

Oct 6, 21 11:46 am  · 
1  ·  1

I knew an architect who was homeless. He's dead now. 

Oct 6, 21 2:05 pm  · 
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I knew an architectural student who was homeless for a semester.  Lived in studio.  Used the university amenities to shower, do laundry, ect.  

Oct 6, 21 2:49 pm  · 
1  · 

Likewise.

Oct 6, 21 4:05 pm  · 
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x-jla

My brother has severe mental illness. Schizophrenic. He would without a doubt be homeless if he didn’t have my parents support. He can’t even eat or shower without help. He’s a big and intimidating looking guy, but he’s the sweetest and gentlest person I know. He’s gone homeless for brief periods despite the fact that he has a home. Sometimes he just wanders. As a kid he was always in gifted classes. He has an advanced degree in aeronautical engineering and mathematics. He taught himself the to program and built many video games while still in high school. He can’t simply “get a job” because he literally spends 24/7 in a delusional state of consciousness. It’s quite sad to see. I can’t imagine what life he would have if he didn’t have a support system. We shouldn’t pre-judge the homeless. He did everything he could to develop valuable skills, but unfortunately was dealt a bad hand in regards to his genetic disposition.

Oct 7, 21 1:02 pm  · 
4  · 
atelier nobody

x-jla - I'm sorry to hear about your brother - I, too, have a relative in a similar situation.

Oct 7, 21 1:35 pm  · 
2  · 
atelier nobody

I was contemplating just yesterday whether I could take the hit to my income of going back for a couple years of grad school, and one of the thoughts I had was whether I could stand sleeping in my truck for a couple years...

Oct 7, 21 1:39 pm  · 
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