Eli Spevak’s J-Term Course: Shared Housing, Soup to Nuts

Over the winter break, current Loeb Eli Spevak organized a short January term course focussing on his interest in developing community-oriented housing options. The 3-day workshop, entitled “A Practical Guide to Shared Housing: How to Design, Finance and Build Small Residential Communities,” filled up immediately upon its announcement, and the room was packed each day with students from architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning as well as current Loeb Arana Hankin.

“It was a great opportunity to interface with Loeb Fellows,” said LeeAnn Suen (MArch ’17). “And it’s an ideal format­–not informal, but an intimate sized group where we can share ideas, ask questions, and exchange knowledge of our disciplines.”

The workshop led students through the development and design of small, in-fill residential communities using a potential project site based in Portland, Oregon. Students learned about community-oriented housing options at a range of scales, including cohousing, detached bedroom clusters and primary-accessory dwelling units. Land use regulations, design considerations, and financial and legal structures were also explained and accounted for.

“I wanted to teach a class related to the kind of work that I do and the tips that I’ve picked up over the years,” said Spevak. “And after looking at studio options and electives at the GSD I saw there was a knowledge gap that I could fill.  My aim is to expose students to the new models and possibilities of sharing housing.”

Following the budgeting of their projects, students had the chance to sketch out a shared housing model of their design, using hand drafting techniques. Spevak enlisted the help of GSD alumnus Sky Milner (MDes ’12) to help in the design phase.

“Many years ago I taught the development process to students, but never to architects or designers,” said Spevak. “Beyond the numbers, many people have difficulty taking the step of making a development project look real. My teaching assistant, Sky Milner, is helpful in expanding this workshop to address the visual and analytic aspects of the development exercise.”

Spevak explained that beautiful design and beautiful budgets are difficult to coordinate in large, complex projects. His smaller scale exercise had the students deal with home ownership financing which enabled review, analysis and improvement through a relatively quick feedback loop.

Suen came to the GSD with a focus on housing and communities, so this short exercise was an excellent opportunity. “My background is actually not in design; it’s more in social, political and historical contexts.  This class spoke directly to my interests and background.” She enjoyed the brisk pace and encouragement to find community arrangements that could influence her design.  “My development project is designed for multigenerational communities: children, adults, grandparents. Caretaking needs are fulfilled by fostering more roles of home care nurses and nannies.  Eli calls this condition ‘the tie that binds,' along with encouraging co-habitation by common interests.  “These folks are united or drawn together by a common need.”

Students shared their numeric financing models and hand-drafted plans on the final day, and Spevak and fellow students gave constructive critiques of the work over lunch. Spevak said, “My goal was for students to take their drawn plans and wrap budgets around them.  And with a focus on shared housing they were able to evaluate financial feasibility goals and community goals simultaneously.”

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