Designing Communities: The Enterprise Rose Fellows

The Enterprise Rose Fellowship teams emerging architects with community-based organizations in order create spaces—from homes to businesses to parks—that benefit the neighborhoods they are built in and the lives of people that use them. Theresa Hwang (Los Angeles) and Katherine Williams (San Francisco) are two of California’s fellows. They have each taken on exciting new projects in their local communities.

Why did you choose to apply for the Rose Fellowship?

By placing fellows with architecture backgrounds within non-profit affordable housing organizations across the US, the Enterprise Rose Fellowship is one of the few alternatives for new architects to work outside of design firms in the private sector. With many years of working in non-profit settings, I knew that I wanted to stay with a community-based organization. The Fellowship provides the opportunity for me to draw on many past professional experiences as a community organizer and arts educator, in addition to being a designer. The Fellowship is a rare opportunity to blend my many of my interests and skill sets in an environment that creates meaningful projects in the community.

Which building/project did you work on and what population does it serve?

When I first joined the Skid Row Housing Trust in September, the construction of the New Carver Apartments was close to finished. I had the opportunity to help transition the project from construction site to home, by working on obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy, passing Housing Authority inspections, and furnishing the units and community spaces to create warm and comfortable spaces. The New Carver Apartments is a 97 unit building that will provide permanent supportive housing for (formerly) homeless people. By providing efficiency units with their own kitchenettes and bathrooms, coupled with on-site social services, The New Carver Apartments will be an effective step towards stabilizing their lives.

What are some of your favorite elements of the new building?

Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, the outdoor community areas of the New Carver apartments are spectacular. The central circular courtyard, with multiple seating areas and planted gardens, is the heart of the building. The six-story courtyard opens to the sky and provides access to most of the units of the building. On the 6th floor viewing deck, you have framed views of the entire downtown skyline with the mountains in the background—it captures LA in a single panorama.

How do these elements affect those that live there?

In addition to creating beautiful areas to gather and rest, these elements provide opportunities to socialize and interact. We mindfully include large community areas in our projects to encourage and support resident interaction. Because many of the residents are coming from the streets, where they have been living isolated lives, we hope to create safe spaces for them to create and rebuild aspects of community.

Do you feel that Los Angeles is adequately responding to the need for low-income housing?

There are many affordable housing development organizations in L.A. that work tirelessly to provide housing for low-income residents, but the process is long and difficult. In comparison to the new and barely occupied market-rate developments that seem to spring up overnight, the need for low-income housing is in high demand. How do well-designed buildings affect the neighborhoods they are built in? Well-designed buildings not only affect the neighborhoods but impact the residents of the building. Design can act as a means of place-making within the neighborhood by creating informal landmarks that add presence to the block. Additionally, we’ve seen good design as a source of pride for the residents where they proudly claim the building their home. What is your favorite element of your personal residence and why is it important to you? Above my work space, I have a constantly evolving wall where I have pinned up photos, drafts of projects, newspaper clippings, hand written notes and other reminders. It’s a reflection of myself and my community.

Why did you choose to apply for the Rose Fellowship?

I was hoping to do more community-based design after being in a traditional firm and seeing a separation between architects’ work and the community’s needs. I wanted my work to be more hands on and closer to the generation of projects with more public purpose.

Which project did you work on and what population does it serve?
I’ve worked on two buildings in my time with the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation. For the last two years I’ve worked on 4800 Third Street in Bayview. It’s a condominium project, primarily for first-time homebuyers with moderate incomes.

What are some of your favorite elements of the new building?
It has really great light in all of the units, thanks to windows on both sides that bring in lots of natural daylight. There’s also a nice courtyard at the center of the building. I like that the materials on the building’s exterior add to the street. The architects did a great job both on design as well as material selection.

How do these elements affect those that live there?
No one lives there yet, but for people who have come in to see it, they are surprised at the high quality of the design for the building’s location. Most people tend to think negatively about housing in the Bayview. But this is a really great building, and from a design standpoint it would easily fit in downtown and other neighborhoods. I like knowing that people will be really happy with their homes. We upgraded on the materials and so it’s just a better quality than what you normally see for affordable housing.

Do you feel that San Francisco is adequately responding to the need for low-income housing?
That’s a hard question to answer. If you look at regional needs, as far as what San Francisco should be building, the city does well at the ends of the spectrum. We call this the barbell --- the very low end and the market-rate areas are doing well, but there’s a deficit of good quality housing in the middle. The city needs to find a way to be affordable for people who are working and making a decent living.

How do well-designed buildings affect the neighborhoods they are built in?
They raise the bar on design. They also show people who live in the neighborhood that they shouldn’t expect less. 
What is your favorite element of your personal residence and why is it important to you? 
I live in a typical San Francisco–style single-family house. There’s a great bay window across the front of it, so it gets a lot of natural light. I’m in a great neighborhood, close to the local commercial corridor with a library, market and bank all within walking distance. That’s convenient, and I’ve got a variety of modes of public transportation available.

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