Sixteen Houses

Michael Bell, Author
Michael Bell, Author Monacelli Press $40 (192p) ISBN 978-1-58093-114-4
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The federal government's 1990s effort to decentralize public housing and encourage ownership through down-payment vouchers for low-income home buyers prompted this artful, innovative answer to the post-war, cookie-cutter suburbs that encircle American cities. Initiated by architect and professor Bell, the project engaged 16 architectural firms (including Studio Works from Los Angeles, Lindy Roy from New York and Carlos Jimenez Studio from Houston) and the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, to create low-cost housing deigned for Houston's Fifth Ward, a five-square-mile, predominantly African American neighborhood. The result is 16 inventive plans--pictured here with explanations by the architects and, in some cases, accompanying poems or stories--that""literally or symbolically expand the boundaries of the single family house, transcending the limitations of its relative insignificance in the urban landscape."" The architects considered market constraints, local economy, race and income in their proposals, and many emphasize fluid, efficient and variable spaces, such as Keith Krumwiede's""Domestic Topographic Package,"" a compact, three-story home that can be customized to fit the owner's needs. Several designs capitalize on locally manufactured materials and alternative construction methods to cut costs; Stanley Saitowitz's corrugated aluminum and glass house with a flat, tarred roof is original, but may prove a challenge to cool in Houston's intense summers. Bell sometimes uses architectural jargon (e.g.,""volumetric and tectonic responses""), but his study offers a lucid and promising vision for imagining future low-income housing. 100 color illustrations, 50 b&w
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