High Style Affordable Housing - Tahoe Quarterly
A few years ago when Amy Larkin, the education director for the Art Association of Jackson Hole, looked into buying a home, the 31-year-old couldn't afford what she liked, and she didn't like what she could afford.
"Most of the affordable housing options were poorly built and poorly designed," says Larkin. But last year a new option opened in Jackson: a condominium complex at 810 Snow King that differed radically from the town's Old West architecture. It features low-angled roofs, abundant metal and glass and an unusual mustard-olive and sun-yellow paint scheme. And at $196,000, a 1,100 square foot, 2- modern answers to a modern problem bedroom unit was perfect for Larkin.
"It's quiet and the space is great," Larkin says, adding that the condo is a far cry from the yurt where she previously lived. "I have running water—and a garage."
A number of Western mountain towns are turning to modern architecture to help solve their affordable housing needs. These progressive designs lower the construction and maintenance costs of the projects with simple but efficient materials and floorplans.
And by leaping traditional boundaries, they have also energized vigorous local debates. What is the range of "good design" for a mountain community? Must affordable housing structures mimic the existing milieu? How can the shapes and sizes of these projects be both utilitarian and attractive?
One thing that is not being debated in these communities, as at Lake Tahoe, is the need for affordable housing. With Tahoe's median home prices now over $1 million, businesses are having increasing problems attracting and keeping quality employees. Units in the following projects, all in towns with similar or even higher real estate values, have sold for between $80,000 and $300,000.
Are modern architecture solutions appropriate for Tahoe? You be the judge.
810 Snow KingWhere: Jackson, WYWhen: April 2005Who: Stephen Dynia Architects
This 36-unit project on 6 acres at the base of Snow King Resort combines market and deed-restricted units. The 14 marketrate units sold in the $500,000 range, according to architect Stephen Dynia, who with his partner, real estate broker Greg Prugh Jr., developed the project after buying the property from the town at a lower-than-market price. The 22 deed-restricted units started at $180,000. Their resale values are capped at standard of living increases.
The project's contemporary style ignited fiery debates in Jackson's bookstores, bagel shops and cowboy bars over whether its angular shapes fit into Jackson's Old West ambiance. Dynia argues that they do. He has extensively photographed and studied ranch buildings throughout the West, he says. The materials, while put to modern use, are rooted in history. Its colors—bright yellows and olive browns—are borrowed from nature.
Plentiful glass lets in outside views and provides passive solar heating. Cement-fiberboard siding and galvanized corrugated steel ensure low maintenance and durability.
"There is an austerity that I find appealing," says Dynia. "I tried to make the forms and the applications simple."
Meridian CourtWhere: Mammoth Lakes, CAWhen: to be completed in 2006Who: Palomino Barth Architects
Close up, the Meridian Court complex in Mammoth Lakes looks traditional—six pitched-roof, earth-toned houses connected to the street with sidewalks, yards and front porches. But a wider view reveals that the traditional structures share the landscape with urban-looking, low-angled contemporary buildings painted mauve, eggplant and burgundy.
"We wanted to see a unique design that identifies the project as an asset to the community, something that the community takes pride in," says Andrea Clark, executive director of Mammoth Lakes Housing. "A resort community that tackles its workforce housing problem creates stability through affordable homeownership. Families raise their children in the community, people stay in their jobs longer, they volunteer for the fire department, and they put their children in school."
The project is being developed by Mammoth Lakes Housing and has been subsidized by the Town of Mammoth Lakes with $1 million raised through transient occupancy taxes. When finished, the 1- to 3-bedroom units will sell for $80,000 to $350,000 and house 24 families. The resale values will be capped to median income increases. The structures utilize low maintenance, cement-fiberboard siding, durable interior finishes, passive solar designs and efficient, forced-air heating.
7th & MainAffordable HousingWhere: Aspen, COWhen: 2005Who: Studio B Architects
As with Mammoth's Meridian Court, the 7th and Main project in Aspen blends historical styles with modern. However, its buildings combine different uses, residential and commercial, to form a transition zone between neighborhoods and the downtown core.
"We were careful to relate to the historical context already established," says Gilbert Sanchez, project manager at Studio B Architects. "At the same time we took that historical context and reinterpreted it in a modern way."
Three project components of contrasting designs create an appealing stylistic tension. Varying from old-time commercial to funky modern, they are united by color schemes and architectural details. Those located next to existing large houses in the neighborhood are more traditional with gabled roof forms. In a nod to old western boardwalk facades, buildings next to existing commercial structures mix flat roofs, gabled roofs and false fronts. To the rear of the complex, smaller condo units express a more modern sensibility in funky, shed-like forms.
"We think it is a very exciting composition," Sanchez says. "It has a dynamic quality that distinguishes it from most of the buildings on Main Street, but it doesn't jar the eye—the massing is broken up. Everything fits within the context, which is one reason the historical preservation commission thought it was a very good project."
Little AjaxWhen: to be completed in 2006Who: Peter L. Gluck & Partners
The contemporary, angular design of this 14-unit project in Aspen's core inspired plenty of opposition over design, density and its location next to open space.
According to a local quoted by the Aspen Times, "... something so modern just doesn't seem to work with the neighborhood." Nevertheless, town council members approved the project, 4-1, with supporters calling its design "striking."
Like 810 Snow King in Jackson, this project is a transition between a city grid and a mountainside. It combines flat roofs and angular shapes in three-story buildings with below-unit parking. When completed this year, the condos will sell for $200,000 and up.
Early opponents didn't faze architect Peter Gluck, who said his design is more practical on all fronts. "There's this incredible, misplaced nostalgia for pitched roofs," he says. "It's crazy. Pitched roofs are terrible for the mountains. The snow slides off; it's hard to make entrances to buildings where people don't get hurt; ice dams build up and the buildings leak."
What does Gluck think of the nostalgia for traditional mountain designs? "Architecture involves function, form and structure. Modern architecture is meant to respond directly to people's needs, to the use of the building, the appreciation of the materials. When buildings mimic the past, people's lives are then like someone else's, like the mythic good old days. What's the matter with today? What's the matter with dealing with our lifestyles in an intelligent way?”