The Architecture of Affordable Housing, by Sam Davis

The Architecture of Affordable Housing
By Sam Davis

The Architecture of Affordable Housing is a thoroughly researched 208 page book which focuses on affordable housing in the USA, with occasional comparison examples from other countries such as Canada, France, and Italy.

Sam Davis’ book has illustrations on most pages, consisting of scores of photographs, building plans, neighborhood plans, 3d schematics, all carefully chosen to illustrate his analyses. He defines affordable housing as ‘housing that receives direct or indirect financial assistance’ such as subsidy, grant, tax credit, or land donation. He compares American affordable housing, with the European concept of ‘social housing’, which ‘implies that a responsible and humane society has an obligation to assist those of its members who could not otherwise have decent housing.

Sam Davis, a Professor of Architecture at University of California Berkeley, first discusses the function of the architect in affordable housing, as a reformer, a community activist, community development corporations, and discusses various goals and strategies for affordable housing design. Next, he discusses the actual process of creating affordable housing, including the conduct of public meetings, the development process, the ‘ripple effect’ of individual design decisions on other aspects of a program, grassroots activities, building by consensus, planning board meetings, NIMBY, economic financial and political negations to achieve a positive outcome.

Davis next discusses issues regarding creation of affordable housing, such as cost and durability factors, community, site issues, prefabrication issues, contractors, regulations and codes, societal values and expectations for affordable housing. Next, he reviews a variety of affordable housing projects, comparing and contrasting, discussing issues such as density, design, attached or separate, materials and forms, planning for community, ‘making small seem large’, flexibility, ornamentation and detailing, automobiles and pedestrian paths, including several detailed case studies.

In a significant part of the book, Davis rhetorically asks the question, ‘is affordable housing significant architecture?’ and discusses ‘excellence and affordable housing’ with numerous detailed examples, including photographs and plans.

Sam Davis’ The Architecture of Affordable Housing, is a significant book for every affordable housing practitioner, and well worth its purchase. Davis has numerous significant thoughts and recommendations which are timely and useful for affordable housing creation.

By David Hoicka

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