Architecture Design Option Studio — INSIDE OUT / OUTSIDE IN — Reconceptualizing Conventions of Urban Housing (Scott/Anmahian)

Mandatory lottery process
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Precipitous escalation in real estate and construction costs over the past decade has rendered housing in many of the wealthiest cities in the US nearly, if not completely, unaffordable to an increasing cross-section of the population.

In conjunction with the affordability crisis, transformations in social structures have pressured municipal agencies to gradually redefine regulatory definitions of ‘family’. This economic scenario has catalyzed several developer-driven responses of seemingly novel types: micro-units, co-housing, co-living, pocket communities, etc.. Ironically, they are conceived of and executed as conventionally formed conglomerations of a particular set of ‘units’ with an attendant infrastructure that is hyper-efficient for a specific layout. Failing to recognize the significance of how quickly things are changing, and regardless of any short-term success, these models are at risk of premature obsolescence by virtue of their inability, by design, to anticipate adaptation to yet unforeseen arrangements of living or hybridized uses. Even if constructed of sustainable materials and assemblies, these emerging types are wanting in resilience of configurative logic at the scale of the unit and the building.

Beyond technical considerations, what are the preconditions for architecture to possess the capacity to be repeatedly subjected to adaptation and remain culturally relevant? Through research and analysis of housing precedents, the studio will identify exigencies of resilience as an opportunity to radically reconceptualize multi-family housing from the ‘inside out’. At the same time, we will study specific patterns of urban geography and assess the socio-spatial context of a complex and diverse neighborhood. If specificity is essential to inspire the imagination for future adaptation, how deeply can the larger context inform the particulars of the architecture from the ‘outside in’?

The studio will revisit conventions of aggregating units to form a building or of optimizing units to fit within a predetermined building form by redefining the typical elements that comprise a ‘unit’— number, type, and size of rooms. Instead, students will be asked to establish a qualitative set of domestic activities and functions that can be independently aggregated within a systematic framework. Conflicts, tensions, or dissonance that are likely to arise between scales of design will test the capacity of the configurative logic to integrate and express distinctive moments.

The studio will be working close to home / MIT by using the whole of East Boston as a dynamic laboratory for our studies, speculations and discourse. It is a unique neighborhood at the confluence of Boston harbor, Logan Airport, I-90, I-93, and the Callahan and Sumner Tunnels; and home to the most diverse community in Boston in terms of ethnicity, income and housing typologies. The neighborhood is filled with richness, character and sustaining itself with community open space, gardens and agriculture. East Boston also has many debatable issues relating to urban development as it is being subjected to incremental gentrification of the urban housing fabric.

The studio will be engaged in both collective research and conceptual play in the early stages, and then move to individual design speculations throughout the rest of the semester, to ultimately produce a set of projects that reconceptualize the conventions of urban housing, using the adaptation of the urban fabric of East Boston as the ‘neighborhood laboratory in our backyard’. For final projects, students will be asked to develop a hybrid multi-family program and choose a site based on interests developed in earlier analytical studies. The work of the studio will not presume to solve the housing crisis with any single typological invention. Instead, we will rely on our disciplinary skills to speculate on the subject and advance knowledge in the arena of multi-family hybrid housing.

The studio intends to produce a publication of the collective work of the studio, in order to contribute to a larger discourse around housing in the Department. A three to four days study trip will likely be planned during Spring break week to Los Angeles and / or San Francisco.