The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1875] Design for the Other Half

United States

How interrelated is the field of architecture with society? Do we architects treat everyone in our society with the same attention and respect? In "The Favored Circle", Gary Stevens examines culture’s role in the field of architecture. Stevens believes it is crucial to view architecture as a field, because it “sensitizes us to the fact that architects are but one part of a much wider social system.” Social forces bear upon the field and the field subsequently reacts and applies its own forces. Using Bourdieu’s model of the field of culture and relating it to the field of architecture, Stevens defines Bourdieu’s mass and restricted sub-fields by using an example of a mass-produced standard home versus a home designed by an architect. Stevens believes the basic determinant in each sub-field varies: the field of mass consumption (the general public) responds primarily to economics while the field of restricted consumption (the highly affluent and wealthy) responds to aesthetics. Stevens points out that historically, architects have avoided serving the mass market for fear of a smear on their reputation and to distance themselves from drafters, builders, and developers. Architects have even gone so far as to exclude buildings for the masses (transportation facilities, factories, cinemas, etc.) from being called architecture. As a result, Stevens believes the field of architecture could be broken down more precisely (and more politically-correctly) if one referred to it as “the field of the built environment” with the “field of building” for the masses and the “field of architecture” for the restricted population.

Stevens hit the nail right on the head. Are not architects called to serve the “public good”? If so, aren’t we shunning the people who need us most? What have we done about design for the “other half”?

In what began as a government-backed solution in the 1940’s to provide immediate housing to those returning from the war, manufactured housing has grown to become a key player in today’s American housing market. Scattered across the countryside, 7.43 percent of occupied housing units are manufactured homes that house approximately 17.28 million Americans. Often these homes are poorly built with a minimal regard for aesthetic quality, energy efficiency, and construction quality. They are built in a factory under minimal governmental code supervision. Once constructed, a home is shipped to its site where it begins its tenure of costing a homeowner outrageous amounts of upkeep and energy costs. Being so poorly designed and shoddily constructed, then one might ask “what draws a person to purchase a manufactured home?” The primary reason: affordability.

Ever since passing the Housing Act of 1949, the United States government has encouraged Americans to own their own home. Yet many do not have the financial capability to own traditional site-built houses and have turned to manufactured housing as an alternative. For families motivated by the desire to become homeowners, manufactured housing has become a means for these people to achieve their goals. The Federal Reserve states that in 1998, the average cost of a manufactured home was $43,800, which ranges from approximately twenty-one to sixty-five percent of the cost of a traditional site-built home. The average square foot cost for one of these manufactured homes was approximately $27.83, which is remarkably less than the average of $59.25 per square foot for a traditional site-built home. As a result, manufactured housing accounts for just over fifty percent of housing units that cost under $100,000. Though when one thinks of the level of architectural design in these homes, it could only be characterized as sub-standard.

As architects, we have failed to give manufactured housing the same attention for good quality design we instinctively offer site-built homes. With traditional site-built homes, architects are exploring better ways to conserve materials and energy, achieve better indoor air quality, and reduce carbon emissions. In contrast, the design (or lack thereof) of manufactured homes makes them highly un-mobile, site- and climate-unspecific, and generally wasteful of materials and energy. In addition, the homes are often non-sustainable and aesthetically un-enticing. Why, as architects, have we failed to offer a good solution? Are we afraid of the challenge to design a “site-less” home? Does our ego cause us to avoid the stigma of working for the less-privileged? Once again, are not architects called to “serve the public good”?

What then could a focus on good design of manufactured homes have to offer society?

Even though today’s manufactured homes have advanced quite far from the industry’s early models due to the HUD legislation of 1976, many Americans succeed in keeping manufactured homes out of their communities. Creating stereotypes and urging government agencies to restrict their locations, many believe manufactured homes will lower property values and raise property taxes. In an attempt to end this discrimination, the American Planning Association has urged many local governments to treat manufactured homes as an acceptable form of housing. Manufactured homes are simply an alternative to more costly site-built homes and allow a means of homeownership to low- and moderate-income families. In many ways, a manufactured home is the most valuable asset these families own. Still, why isn’t it well designed?

Let us stay on the topic of money and take a broader look at the nation…

Faced with the current lending crisis crippling the American housing market, the opportunity for growth in the manufactured housing market is quite high. In a discussion with Wall Street analysts and investors, manufactured housing industry leaders stated that “the need for affordable housing and common sense lending has clearly emerged.” The leaders believe that “manufactured housing has a tremendous opportunity to serve the housing needs of emerging markets: immigrants, “baby boomers,” and all other first-time homebuyers.” Noting that the current sub prime lending crisis is forcing the Federal Housing Administration to “reform its inability to adapt products to current market demands”, the manufactured housing industry leaders believe the “FHA has a real opportunity to grow” by getting on board with the manufactured housing market’s available growth and financial incentives due to its lower cost profile. Timeliness for change is crucial. It is estimated that ten percent of Americans owe more on their home than it is currently worth. This could spark an unprecedented foreclosure rate. Clearly, the easy lending practices of the last few years designed to spur increased home ownership rates have backfired and a new approach is needed.

As society pushes towards a more sustainable future, what might happen if we offered the same benefits of good “green” design to the manufactured housing market as we do to the site-built market? In terms of financial incentives, energy-efficient building design can mean much more than an eco-friendly home to its inhabitants. The Department of Energy released a statement showing that “simple energy-efficiency improvements can cut energy costs by over forty percent in most affordable housing.” “Some low-income families may spend over fifteen percent of their income on energy to operate their homes. The money that these families save on energy can help them make mortgage payments and pay for food, clothing, and other essentials.” Again, I ask… What is stopping us? Could well-designed, energy-efficient manufactured homes be the turnaround for our society? Well-built, well-designed manufactured housing poses the opportunity to solve many of the financial and social dilemmas facing our nation today.

To solve this architectural shortcoming and conjure a broad range of possibilities for solutions to meet the needs of the manufactured housing market, I propose to host a two-fold competition entitled “Design for the Other Half: an Adaptive Sustainable Manufactured Home”. In part one, the designer will aim for total visionary design. The product desired will be a new model for a manufactured home that is both sustainable and applicable for any site within one’s region of residence. At minimum, this home should be energy-efficient, adaptive, portable, and affordable. To accomplish this, each design must meet the following criteria:

1.The home should utilize a passive solar heating system to reduce the energy required to heat the home. If possible in one’s region, this system must provide 100 percent required heating during the worst case scenario (i.e. January 21st or December 21st).

2.The home should utilize a passive cooling system that can help minimize the need for mechanical cooling.

3.The home should be innovative in its design of a thermal mass system that allows for the thermal flywheel effect, while also being easily portable at the time of shipping.

4.The home should be adaptable to the range of possible climatic conditions in one’s region of residence (for example: the extreme climatic conditions of the Southeast, Midwest, Northeast, etc.).

5.The home should be adaptable to different possible site orientations. This may be done through the utilization of interchangeable parts, flexible design, and adjustable shading devices.

6.The home should be portable and lightweight at the time of shipping, so not to exceed the allowed dimensions of 14’ wide by 60’ long by 13’ high.

7.The design should be technologically-advanced, but within affordable reason for a low- to moderate-income family. For example, the home could be manufactured within one’s state of residence and be PV-ready to incorporate a later system installation.

8.The design solution should enhance the public’s awareness of sustainability and generate a model for visually-pleasing manufactured homes.

The second part of the competition will help bring the project back to reality. Due to the fact that most owners of a manufactured home lack the ability to purchase an entirely new home, this part of the competition will seek to offer a pragmatic solution applicable to a standard-designed manufactured home. It will be an additive feature one applies to a conventional mobile home that allows for many of the same energy-saving benefits as described in part one. The feature may be applied to the home wherever the designer sees most benefit both functionally and aesthetically. The component may be a piece of the design for part one or a new item meant solely to be applied to traditional manufactured homes. This will challenge participants to look at the design from a detail level with an eye for adaptability, intervention, and maximum functional impact.

In regards to the structure of the competition, students will be allowed to work alone or in teams of two under faculty supervision. This will allow for a wide variety of design submissions that will explore a broad range of conceptual ideas. Ideally, this competition could be used in an academic design studio setting. Faculty could assign the competition as part of a semester-long or partial-semester design project. As a result, the dates and deadlines would be structured around either a fall or spring academic schedule.

For part one, submissions may contain both hand or computer drawings and renderings. The intent is to achieve an aesthetically pleasing design that clearly presents its building and technical information in a clear and thoughtful manner. Models may be used to aid in design efforts and to test environmental control aspects of the design, but may not be submitted. Though, photographs may be included as part of the design submission.

It is required that each submission contains the following drawings, at a minimum:

•floor plan(s), for each level in the design. In addition, one must show the manufactured home in a variety of site-orientations and configurations.

•façade elevations.

•section (at least one showing sun angles at critical times of January or December 21st and June or July 21st dependant on one’s region of residence).

•diagrams/detail drawings of any special design elements (for example: water thermal mass, movable/adjustable shading devices, night insulation)

•three-dimensional representations (either axonometric, perspective, or model photos) to convey one’s goals and objectives

For part two, students would submit a small-scale physical model of their featured design component. This model may not exceed a 20-inch by 20-inch by 20-inch volume. To supplement the model, students must submit a product brochure. This brochure will contain a description of the component and installation diagrams of how the component would connect to a traditional manufactured home.

Evaluating the submissions based on aesthetics, low-energy performance (minimum use of purchased energy), adaptability of the design to different climates and site placements, and thoroughness and completion of the final submission would be the following four invitees:

•Jennifer Siegal, principal and owner of the Office of Mobile Design. Ms. Siegal’s firm in Los Angeles focuses on “developing “mobile” architecture, designing and constructing portable, demountable and relocatable structures”. Ms. Siegal is also interested in “finding unique, dynamic, environmentally sustainable solutions to unconventional design problems”. Ms. Seigal’s work would symbolize some of the possibilities of such a competition.

•Dennis K. Ruth, co-founder of the Auburn University Rural Studio with the late Sambo Mockbee. The Rural Studio “allows students the opportunity to put the educational values to work in serving their community through design/build projects”. Mr. Ruth’s studio seeks “solutions to the needs of their community within the community’s own context”. Mr. Ruth would bring a compassion for encouraging students to bring about change in their society.

•Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, founder and chairman of Michelle Kaufmann Designs. “When Kaufmann relocated to Northern California, she found a lack of affordable, sustainable, well-designed homes. Kaufmann soon realized she could make a difference through her architecture. A leader in the green design community, Kaufmann's commitment to sustainable living and design remains constant throughout all of her work including her thoughtful, sustainable home designs the Glidehouse™, Sunset Breezehouse™, mkSolaire™, and mkLotus™, as well as through designing custom homes and holistic, green communities.”

•Amelia Doyle, Emerging Green Builders National Chair, USGBC-LA Chapter. As the leader of the Emerging Green Builders Committee, Ms. Doyle is responsible for coordinating the EGB’s efforts of engaging emerging green builders, educational institutions, and the green building industry with the U.S. Green Building Council. The EGB seeks to “increase outreach opportunities to enhance communication, education, and networking for emerging green builders” in an attempt to “actively transform the industry and the marketplace towards the mainstreaming of green building”. Ms. Doyle would serve as the important link for this competition to move from a simple academic exercise to a meaningful inspiration for the profession.

But what is the benefit of such a competition and what makes it such an intriguing challenge? It urges one to embrace universality. The need for a new model of manufactured housing is quite apparent. In terms of sustainability, universality seems to be challenging the problem at hand. Often a designer knows the site conditions before he or she begins to design, but with a universally-adaptable manufactured home these parameters are unknown. Therein lies the challenge.

If one will accept this challenge, the benefits of one’s discoveries could be limitless. In Oklahoma, this competition could foster a variety of design ideas that could be integrated as part of programs like the Oklahoma Correctional Industries program, which employs and trains inmates with trade skills like manufactured housing construction. Needless to say, lives would be changed, futures would be improved, opportunities for home ownership would be increased, and the world would be a healthier place to live.

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