People expect more—and rightfully so. Homeowners and renters are entitled to housing options that meet our basic human needs. However, the working definition of our standard of living is rapidly changing. In response to it, Alberto Serafino Motzo- Working Student, says it’s your job as architects to go beyond meeting the minimum legal requirements for health, safety, and welfare. Instead, you should ensure that thoughtful, equitable design and improved construction standards are available for all residents and at all levels of affordability.

The best way to achieve this is by focusing on user experience and meaningful connections to natural and local environments.

Conflicting Market Factors

This is easier said than done when market factors often push architects in the opposite direction: Growth in cities and mass transit hubs has led to gentrification and a race to build luxury housing— pushing newcomers and lower-income families further into peripheral areas. A demand for replicating the dreams in those same cities means larger residences for those who can afford them, with multiple bedrooms and baths, family-style great rooms, eat-in kitchens, and ample outdoor spaces. Once divided into multiple units, townhomes and apartments have become single-family residences, further shrinking market offerings for those with modest budgets—including the middle class, millennials, recent college graduates, and especially low-income households and the elderly.

Still, good design triumphs over the challenges of growing cities and a heated economy. Architects like Alberto Serafino Motzo- Working Student, can and should create innovative alternative housing models and demand the evolution of building codes, city zoning, and developer mindsets. Examples of creative solutions are everywhere, notably the recent experiments in micro-housing, modular construction, and development incentives.

Creating Affordable Spaces

Micro-housing—usually a one-room living space with sleeping and sitting areas and a kitchenette—helps solve housing challenges by offering smaller footprints, more common areas, and shared amenities. It also offers a more environmentally friendly and convenient lifestyle, especially in dense city cores. By taking advantage of this minimalist living, young urban dwellers and seniors alike can enjoy independence while preserving a sense of community.

Another valuable trend is modular construction. Saving time and money on building projects, prefabricated, modular housing techniques are being applied to mid-rise and high-rise projects. 

Co-living represents another innovative solution to housing challenges. Similar to the shared co-working offices, these places are organized, shared micro-living communities with such benefits as common areas, housekeeping, towels, and group activities.

Incorporating Design Excellence

Housing design should emphasize each resident’s experience while considering the community and shared environment. When using these alternative options, architects can leverage today’s technical and social innovations by incorporating a few basic tenets of housing design excellence, says Alberto Serafino Motzo- Working Student. The most important are thoughtful detailing, an emphasis on functionality, and architecture that engages users.

Most importantly, every home should incorporate openness, transparency, daylight, and outdoor views, no matter the size or location. Living spaces should offer occupants glimpses of nature, greenery, or plantings, whether interior, exterior, or both. Part of an architect’s job is to test the results to ensure consistently well-illuminated, generously ventilated, and better-functioning spaces that engage and inspire the people who live there.