Students to tackle local housing

What is the best type of affordable housing for Philadelphia? What do individual neighborhoods need most? How can architects design buildings that fit in with the character of the other structures on the street?

Harris Steinberg, adjunct assistant professor of architecture, hopes Penn’s new Center for Innovation in Affordable Housing Design will help students lead the way in answering those questions. This new partnership between Penn Design and People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation, a local organization, will give students an opportunity to explore the range of issues associated with creating and building affordable housing in nearby Powelton Village. As co-director (the other is Chair of the Department of City Planning Eugénie Birch), Steinberg will combine strong academic preparation and hands-on training with exposure to innovative design ideas.

The idea is to join the talents of the architecture and community planning departments to develop new and innovative forms of affordable housing, says Steinberg. “It will allow the students. . .a very real window into the process.” And it’s fitting that Steinberg should head this center. As the head of Penn Praxis, a student-faculty consulting practice for community and civic groups, he is no stranger to helping students put theory into practice.

With three years of funding in hand from a Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) Futures Demonstration Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the center will offer a series of five classes. First up in the fall is a course in city planning project initiation and financing, with additional classes in dislocation and gentrification, new methods of energy efficiency in architecture and a design studio. Throughout the process, students will meet area experts, community leaders and government employees while gaining exposure to issues of community revitalization.

Steinberg says that once students have developed the designs, John Hayes, principal of the Philadelphia-based firm, Blackney Hayes, will turn the architectural drawings into construction documents. Students will also learn about the bidding and construction processes.

The end result will be an energy-efficient demonstration project to be built in the Mantua-West Powelton neighborhood. Steinberg says, however, that there is no preconceived notion about the final building product. “Part of it will be dependent on funding. Part of it will be dependent on the community,” he says.

Originally published on September 9, 2004