May 18, 2021 Architecture Students Investigate Housing Issues in America

site plan

Our students use exploration and innovation to transform the world with design. During spring 2021, a studio in the School of Architecture looked at the issues related to housing in America and addressed them head on.

Professors Ted Shelton and Tricia Stuth led a 5th-year Design Integrations Studio to look at complex issues of housing, such as social, historical and ethical issues, as part of the curriculum. Students sought a complete integration of the architectural act with issues facing society today.

Students read social science and political science literature, watched documentary films and studied important political figures. To further understand housing issues, they also investigated the history of housing in the US, the history of the specific neighborhood that was the focus of their work and the role of zoning and housing policy in de jure segregation, which is segregation resulting from governmental practices like redlining.

The studio was divided into two large groups, which focused on two sites, and each group was challenged to increase the density of affordable housing that the site contained using the premise of the studio. Each group then subdivided the subsequent site plan into four plots with each plot containing building proposals.

In the studio, students learned to consider social, historical and ethical issues in concert with the technical, performative and construction parameters of an architectural design. Through this, they learned to consider the impact on lives before they design.

Section perspective of housing building

Students in one group examined the existing Guy B. Love Towers in Knoxville at the center of the site, which currently contains affordable units for elderly and disabled residents. The other group worked on the design of a new multi-family building that included public amenity spaces accessible to the building’s residents and residents of the neighborhood.

“As an integration studio, the technical knowledge gained will undoubtedly be of benefit in a future career, but for me, one of the most valuable aspects of the course was the comprehensive aspect of it that not only focused on design and building construction but also considered the social and economic implications of our proposal,” said Kristin Pitts, a 2nd-year Master of Architecture student. “The importance of striving to establish and maintain an awareness of the issues that surround design and have the potential to influence it resonated most deeply with me and is something that I believe will be of greatest impact moving forward.”

Led by faculty who are socially aware and technically experienced, students investigated if or how architecture, itself, could be contributing to difficult societal issues.

“When designing, I will now consider the many different types of people who could populate a building and how to bring them together in different moments throughout a building,” said Maya Pavon, a 1st-year Master of Architecture student who is participating in the college’s 4+2 Program. “I also will think about how to bring people onto a public site and make it clear to everyone that they are welcome.”

Students gained an understanding of the broad scope of the impact of the architectural act to become knowledgeable and thoughtful designers as well as partners in the community as they learn to improve quality of life for our nation and world.

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Learn more about the School of Architecture.

Learn more about our 4+2 Program.