Image credit: Hiroaki Kani a.o., Kowloon Walled City Cross Section

Image credit: Hiroaki Kani a.o., Kowloon Walled City Cross Section


Project: Radical Collectivity
Class: BArch Studio, California College of the Arts, Architecture Division

Date: Spring 2016
Instructors: Erik Bloom, Kristen Sidell, Ian Dunn, Antje Steinmuller

This fourth and last of the architecture core studios focuses on multi-unit housing in a dense urban context: it combines a general investigation of housing as an urban typology with specific current housing issues in CCA immediate surroundings – the city of San Francisco. This semester, the studio will investigate an aspect, or consequence, of San Francisco’s current housing crisis: the lack of affordable rental housing. As more and more tech companies move into the San Francisco, its population is growing rapidly. Confronted with the current population growth, the city will need 92,410 new housing units by 2040, a number that is far from the current growth rate. One of the consequences is pressure on the real estate market that is quickly changing the demographic make-up of the city: The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment was at $3,530 in September of 2015, a 2014 Craigslist rental listing offered a couch in a Nob Hill living room for $900/month, and a 265 sf apartment recently sold for $425,000. While city supervisors have been pushing legislation that aims for a higher ratio of below-market-rate housing to all new market-rate housing, global population growth and increasing urbanization challenge architects and urban planners to rethink more broadly about the way we build cities (and housing within it). If we envision future cities as dense environments in which living, working and recreation are possible in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner, owning a large house with a two-car garage is an outdated model. It is the premise of this studio that, in order to transform and update urban building fabric and city infrastructure to a new, denser model, our thinking needs to shift from me to we – from ownership to shared access.

The origins and contributing factors of San Francisco’s housing crisis are complex, and the housing crisis goes beyond a local or regional problem, affecting many cities in the US and globally. As (aspiring) architects we likely cannot solve the interdependent underlying issues. Yet, we can contribute ideas that opportunistically explore strategies rooted in our discipline-specific knowledge: innovatively rethinking spatial, programmatic and organizational approaches to housing in the age of the sharing economy. Designing Affordability: Quicker, Smarter, More Efficient Housing Now, a recent exhibition in New York, was organized around seven methods for designers to affect issues around affordability: constructing housing on land that was zoned for other uses; increasing unit efficiency through technology; building modularly; working opportunistically within existing public housing; allowing for incremental growth through designing the incomplete; revisiting relationships between living and working; and building with simple, time-tested strategies. To contribute to the ongoing conversation around strategies that allow architects to address issues of affordability, this studio will examine the idling spatial capacity in housing – the gap between possible and actual use – as a way to build smarter, more collective dwellings in the city. It frames a specific aspect in this environment of interdependent political, social and economic housing-related issues: a radical rethinking of spatial, organizational and programmatic strategies for the building configuration in the age of the sharing economy.

Specifically, the studio will take on three strategies :

1. Collective Living (individual units: reconfiguring the dwelling with attention to possible
temporal overlaps in shared space)
2. Collective Amenities (clusters: understanding a unit as more than one dwelling around a shared program)
3. Collective Urban Interiors (public programs: building collectivity through amenities that
serve building and neighborhood)