17 heads are better than 1

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From the first days of design school, the concept of perspective is introduced. Technically, we think about how to draw or model something so that it looks realistic, often at eye level. We also learn about the experience of gaining various perspectives within or around a building, and how those perspectives impact the inhabitant. Less design oriented, is the idea of perspective from the standpoint of the background with which a professional approaches a project. Through the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute, Enterprise Community Partners engages designers and developers in a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps between these professionally diverse perspectives as they relate to community development and affordable housing.

 The two and a half day conference began with presentations and discussion of two projects that provided a platform for the remainder of the conference. Robert Ivy, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) led a panel featuring the developers and architects of two award winning projects: Chicago’s own La Casa, the Richard H. Driehaus Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design Winner; and Via Verde, the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards for Design Excellence in Affordable Housing Winner. The locations, challenges, financing, and joys of these projects were shared by the teams, and a theme that resonated throughout the conference became apparent: the human factor. The designs of both projects are rooted in the desires of residents, and the development teams were driving forces in realizing community stated goals. The collaborative processes pursued by both of these teams resulted in buildings that are not only applauded by the design community, but also respected by neighbors and cared for by residents. Both projects exemplified a James Rouse quote Sunny Fischer of the Driehaus Foundation shared, “Good design doesn’t cost, it pays.”

Building upon the opening night, the conference continued at the offices of Cannon Design. The agenda alternated between design team members discussing best practices that they have learned through experience, and development team members presenting projects in the schematic design phase. These development team presentations then became the basis of a round table format charette. While nuts and bolts often were the starting point of these charettes (dimensions of fire truck access and the differences between 4% and 9% housing tax credits), these concrete questions became jumping off points for broader, more probing topics. How can shared spaces encourage physical activity? How can assets and obstacles in the site plan be seen in a new way? Who will user groups be and what will they want?

Each year at AHDLI, development teams explore their work through the lens of the designer and vice versa, but the unique and pervasive theme of AHDLI 2013 was the importance placed upon the perspective of neither the designer nor the developer, but the resident.

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