Walt, my good friend (and I am proud to call you friend) I must disagree with you on a couple of counts. Like Mr. Catheral, I don't believe homelessness is an architectural problem, but a social one. I serve in churches and ministries that have homeless populations. I have seen first hand that many "choose" to be homeless. It doesn't sound rational to clear thinking people, but mental illness, addictions, and broken families can foster this. I used to drop my boys off (at their mother's) in Palatine at 5pm on Sundays. I would be heading back to Winnetka on Palatine Road and would usually see a homeless man in Arlington Heights walking west bound. I would turn along and give him a ride to a church in Palatine that had a PADS program. His name was Emory. He walked with a bad limp and it just pained me to see him walking a 3.5 mile trek. On our short drives, I began to get to know Emory a little. I asked "what happened?" He explained to me that he a a college degree and was once married. his marriage feel apart and he lost his job (that happened to me too) and could never "pick himself up". As such, he went down the slipperily slope of becoming homeless. I asked if he had family in the area (this is key, I believe). He told me he had a sister on the South Side of Chicago. I asked why he didn't move in with her and try to get up on his feet. He shyed away from my questions, saying he didn't want to impose; they didn't get along well, etc.
Where are the families? If I found myself in that predicament, I am confident I could move in with a family member or close friend. In the 1930's depression years, many were unemployed, yet many families lived together. This doesn't happen with this demographic, and I have seen stories, like Emory's, time and time again. I could share a few more, but need not.
I don't think any amount of free housing will solve this problem. Housing is not the problem. It is a symptom of the problem. These people need family support. They need counseling and (often times) addictions intervention. Architects will not solve this problem, nor should we. I know a few, like Donald Macdonald of San Francisco, and the "Mad Houser's of Atlanta, have tried. I commend them for their efforts, but wonder if they have actually produced tangible results.
Second, please don't dismiss Mr. Rawlings findings. This is a very real dilemma that threatens the residential sector of the architecture profession. When my kids were young we moved into an inspiring 1950's California styled ranch designed by Mies van der Rohe's student Roy Binkley. It was a small home of 1,500 square feet, yet it had a huge great room and den with a south facing glass wall 42' long (We froze our a$$es off in the winter as it had single glazing). The ceiling sloped from 8 foot to twelve feet, and it's exposed beams barred into a solid brick wall. Today this would cost way more to construct than a conventional home. When we had an opportunity to refinance (hoping we could retrofit the windows, which ended up being 30K) the appraisers did comps. Our inspiring home was just another 3 bedroom. 2 bath ranch! Forget the attention to detail and craftsmanship. The real estate profession thrives on resale. It has done a great job convincing the general public that their home is only worth what it can be re-sold for. Anything unique (like we had) will be a tough sell. Not because prospective buyers don't like uniqueness, but because they are afraid to venture into something they might have difficulty selling a few years down the road. This fosters cookie cutter house designs and monotonous neighborhoods devoid of diversity like old Highland Park. Your house is simply a statistic.
Sadly our little post & beam gem was sold to a builder who tore it down and put up a McMansion that was completely out of scale withquaint, downtown Palatine!
If the AIA is going to be of any value to residential architects - and sadly, I am no longer convinced it is - this needs to be addressed. Even in the world of production housing, unique solutions and variety need to be encouraged. Realtors have hurt our profession. And, by the way....in most cases they make more than us. Ok I need to stop here.
PS...It was great bumping into you at Geno's East last fall. As always, thankyou for all yo have done to serve our profession. Ed
Edward Shannon AIA
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