IS IT TIME FOR DC TO TRY SOMETHING NEW? The Role of Architecture in Housing and Community Development


Original Sketch by David Adjaye

“This is why I do architecture. I’m just beginning to realize that what I build can influence the way people behave in these spaces.”

David Adjaye

Architect, Sugar Hill

Broadway Housing Community

is working to upend every existing paradigm and stigma that surrounds the underserved citizen’s need for a place to call home. And architecture is playing a big role in their most recent community development. BHC is responsible for the development of one of the most anticipated innovations in low income housing in our nation’s history. The Sugar Hill development in Harlem is a $89 million dollar triumph for affordable housing. Architectural criticism aside, this development is full of social and financial successes and learning moments in public interest design.

Hiring the world-class architect, David Adjaye, to design a housing development whose ROI lies almost solely in tax credits and goodwill is heroic. Even with the lessons learned with the creation of Cabrini Green, design still remains a low priority in quality affordable housing.

Historian Devereux Bowly Jr. wrote in his 1978 book "The Poorhouse”, “the decision was made from the beginning that emphasis would be placed on housing that was well-constructed, easy to maintain, but architecturally undistinguished.” We know now that, “...housing projects are almost universally viewed as failures that devour human lives and tax dollars.”

Allotting all 124 units to underserved families (20 percent formerly homeless) with zero market rate apartments to balance costs is herculian. Affordable housing has never been a priority in the U.S. In fact, there are no concessions in the US for permanent affordable housing. Investment contracts with special loans are set for 15 or 30 years of rent control. After which, developers and owners are free to charge market rates or better. This is what’s happening currently in DC. Part of the reason affordable housing seems to be coming to a head all at once is because the statutes from the 80’s are running out one after the other. The potential influx of cash is just too much to resist. So what we are left with is a housing crisis that disregards the needy with no end in sight, unless, of course, we get creative.

The supportive housing model of BHC incorporates “medical and mental health care, vocational training and job placement, substance abuse treatment, benefits counseling and training and assistance with independent living skills” all without leaving home. As BHC founder Ellen Baxter says, “she could get hit by a truck and the communities would go on fine without her.” It’s the residents that create the communities and truly embrace one another.  People to whom mainstream society turns a blind eye and treat like troubled children who can’t have nice things for fear that they will break them. The tenants have time and again proven that through trust and with the support of BHC and Ellen Baxter, they are more prone to create and flourish than to break.

I recently overheard an older homeless woman saying that jail was better than the shelter. She said jail was clean, the food was terrible but you could shower and it was clean. Is this the best we can do in one of the most expensive and wealthy cities in our country? Broadway Housing Community’s supportive housing model in NYC has been testing and proving their innovative methods for over 30 years. Is it time for DC to try something new?

“I don’t mind the great outdoors it’s just the awfully hard concrete” “Too bad I can’t borrow on my sorrow till I get back on my feet”

“Thank you, Lady”
Carl Wynter

- Post by Keisha Banks











LEDC celebrated its 20th anniversary tonight at the OAS. The neo-classical building at 17th and Constitution with its two-story atrium was a wonderful venue for LEDC’s annual fund raiser. I sit as board chair at LEDC and being the son of an immigrant from Santiago, Chile, the services they provide have a special place in my heart. LEDC’s mission is to drive the economic and social advancement of low- to moderate-income Latinos and other DC area residents by equipping them with the skills and tools to achieve financial independence and become leaders in their communities. Inscape donated $500 to the gala.

In 2008 Inscape Studio designed LEDC’s new space in Wheaton, MD. The 2,400sf space serves thousands of Maryland residents providing services in small business development and lending, homeownership and foreclosure counselling, and affordable housing preservation. Also is in the space is a financial services center that works with that portion of the population without access to traditional banking institutions.

Inscape Publico will be providing concept design services for a new building in Wheaton. The new development will allow us to expand our services in an area that has seen a tremendous population increase over the past decade. LEDC will be launching a capital campaign in the fall of this year to raise the 3 million dollars needed to build the new facility. To learn more about LEDC and to donate to the organization, please visit their website.
- Greg


Stefan and I just got back from the BBBC site late this afternoon. Back at Maison Blanche with its proprietor “Daddy”. He’s another story for another day. Today was the inauguration of the housing exposition for the Building Back Better Communities project. The project is a program developed by the government of Haiti and being supported by the Clinton Foundation and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). Inscape Publico teamed with Relief International and is one of 40 finalists that have built their housing prototype. Eventually the best of these 40 prototypes will be selected to participate in a planned community to house 125 families.

Early this afternoon ex-president Bill Clinton and the newly elected Haitian president Michel Martelly visited the site. The two were greeted as rock stars, fitting for an ex-musician and our former first saxophonist.

Clinton was wearing a panama hat and through the scrum you could follow his movements around the site by tracking the straw hat floating above the crowd. It was great to see the two presidents at the site as they bring a much need voice to the project and the problem of homelessness in Haiti.

Clinton said he hopes that "all the technology deployed on this project will ever be available to all Haitians. That they no longer have to pay more for electricity, and that drinking water is no longer a rare commodity...

"- Greg


This evening I attended a rooftop reception and fundraiser to support

Mi Casa

hosted by the law firm Reno & Cavanaugh helped to support Mi Casa's mission to provide affordable housing to low and moderate-income households in Washington, DC and Baltimore. Inscape made a contribution of $250. Atop the roof at 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW we were serenaded by a jazz trio while enjoying views of the US Capitol and the Washington Monument. A glass of white wine cooled the body on this warm early summer evening.


Inscape Studio

, Inscape Publico's sister firm, is collaborating with Mia Casa on the design and renovation of 60 units in NE Washington, DC. Pleasant Park Cooperative is composed of 60 two-bedroom townhouses situated around a series of courtyards. With Mi Casa's assistance and a DHCD loan, the tenants purchased and are developing their homes as a limited equity cooperative. It's a pleasure working with Mia Casa and the tenants of PPC on this important project.

- Greg


Architects create the spaces that we inhabit. I sit here inhabiting a second floor balcony at Maison Blanche, a guest house in Delmas, Haiti. Delmas is a suburb of Port au Prince, east and slightly north of the city. To my left, with views to the west and the bay of Port au Prince in the horizon, sits my colleague Stefan Schwarzkopf. Day is giving way to night. The sun dances on the water and dusk covers the city creating a sense of calm. This is Haiti, however, and underneath this façade is chaos.

From my vantage point Stefan is busy at his computer revising drawings of a housing prototype we’ve designed for a planned community in Zoranger, 30 minutes north of downtown Port-au-Prince. Bodies will one day inhabit the bricks and mortar, or more precisely structural concrete insulated panels, we’re orchestrating with our computer generated drawings. As I look east there are the remains of a concrete block structure. The roof porous but for tarps stamped


. People have gathered in the space provided to pray. Church hymns fill the early evening. The spirit of Haitians has survived. Keep going east along the dirt road and a banner spans your path.


Within the course of 100 meters the body, soul, and mind have come together.