J-Term Round-up: Lowest cost housing design and finance

In “Leaving Nobody Behind: Affordable Shelter Design and Finance for Developing Countries’ Citizens,” Matt Nohn (LF’ 14) and Deidre Schmidt (LF’ 08) teamed up to lead a day-long exploration into the many challenges that developing countries face when seeking housing solutions in response to rapid urbanization. They provided a foundation of knowledge on current issues and trends as well as a toolkit of ways to use design and finance to promote housing prosperity and prevent slum formation.

Schmidt and Nohn have collaborated previously on various international housing and urbanization projects, and wanted to offer this J-term course in order to test ideas and have fun. Students of architecture, design, and planning gathered in Gund Hall to attend presentations on lowest-cost housing design and shelter finance and to take part in group exercises where they created scenarios and tested them for affordability and functionality.

The course addressed many of the wide range of issues involved in affordable housing development, emphasizing the intersection between design and finance that often goes unnoticed. The amount of land or type of material used in a housing project plays a large role in its cost. For example, Schmidt offered the example of designing housing square plots, which serve as a more efficient land use by cutting the infrastructure cost in half. Financial strategies employed will also affect a project’s design, as the amount of available resources can determine accessibility to various materials or land.

The course focused particularly on solutions that are tailored to meet the needs and priorities of the urban poor. The Fellows also led a discussion on the important role that housing plays in political, economic, and social discussion and policy formation. With examples from countries including Colombia and India, they discussed the roles of housing delivery systems,  microfinance, and characteristics of informal systems. They also discussed community stakeholders and civic participation. The  affordable housing development solutions included high levels of citizen participation in addition to involvement by other stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The projects empowered communities through training, job creation, and involvement in decision-making.

After reviewing the broad spectrum of issues in affordable housing design and finance, and gaining insight into strategies to face these issues, students met in groups to create their own approaches, employing both design and financial analysis tools. This included a financial analysis tool being developed by Nohn, which evaluates projects based on a variety of factors, with a special focus on exercisable collateral.

Alex Medina (MAUD ‘15) described the course as a “good panorama” of the complex issues in housing in developing countries given in a short timeframe. Chase Pitner (MArch II ‘15) expressed a greater appreciation of the combination of design and finance after taking the course. He said it “helped me understand what makes something affordable: the financing side, not just the material side, and the use of affordable strategies as opposed to inexpensive materials.”

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One Response to J-Term Round-up: Lowest cost housing design and finance

  1. Marcus Mello says:

    This sounds like a very interesting course — it would be great if the GSD included subject matter like this regularly in the curriculum!

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