The Nineth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2007
Berkeley Prize 2007

Matthew Clarke

Mary has lived in Bluegrass-Aspendale for over ten years, mother of three and part-time service worker. As this housing project was condemned several months ago, she has left the project and her contact with social agencies. Unable to receive housing vouchers and priced out of the market, she will likely live day to day on welfare.

The East End neighborhood, code for ‘ghetto,’ in Lexington, Kentucky has been a predominantly African-American neighborhood for the past 130 years. Today, drug pushers, prostitutes and gang violence keep outsiders away from the area. However, its legacy brims over with images of an independent and resilient community. The federal government built one of the first public housing projects here in 1938, Bluegrass-Aspendale, considered the best housing in the city at the time. At the end of this year this project will be razed, a victim of neglect, reduced funding, and racially discriminatory policies. Almost 1000 people will be displaced from the area.

National and local policy has shifted the priority of public housing to homeownership. In completing an oral history project, serving on a grassroots organization and writing a senior thesis I have realized the large disparity between the interests of the community and the policies of subsidized housing.

With the help of Public Architecture, and their ability to manage human action within the built environment and public discourse about that environment, I hope to create a multi-unit housing complex that uses design to reify the idea of Home with the processes of the East End community. Cooperative housing, under the auspices of a housing authority, will generate the social connectivity needed by single-mothers, the elderly and those otherwise displaced individuals. Whereas homeownership too often drags down residents in financial dependency and social isolation, cooperative housing links people together in spatial and economic community. The realization of this facility needs not only well-considered design but also the reciprocal research into the social history of the East End’s fabric. My initial research into this topic will continue into a community led visioning process, facilitated by the architectural and social expertise of Public Architecture. This cooperative housing complex will materialize as social architecture and operate at the boundary of the community and the self.

This new typology of public housing will serve as a model for contemporary urban housing in cities worldwide. Using sustainable building methods (prefab, passive energy, community gardens) will increase livability and decrease reoccurring costs. Commercial space will encourage economic development, entrepreneurship and job training. Common spaces will connect the facility to community functions. While daycare facilities will ease the burden on single mothers by giving them time to pursue a job or education. The facility will empower.

My final essay will utilize the oral histories I have captured of former tenants of Bluegrass-Aspendale and my personal connection to the people of the East End. I hope to catalog how architecture concerns a largely ignored public interface between people and their domestic space and thus make a call for more progressive public housing.

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Matthew Clarke, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY USA
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