People & Culture

Small houses, big impact on lives

Listening, observing and soliciting feedback goes a long way toward design that makes lives better

A non-profit in Austin, Texas came up with a distinctive solution for transitioning people out of chronic homelessness and Page has been involved in its implementation since early days. Community First! Village is a 51-acre master-planned community of tiny homes designed by various firms in the architecture and construction industry, including Page. A number of Pagers have been active participants since the design of the first phase got underway in 2014, particularly design architect Shelby Blessing, who was recently interviewed by both Architect Magazine and Shared Space with Erin Peavey, a podcast. Today, the need for affordable housing is even more acute as Travis County, which includes Austin, reported that its homeless population increased since the beginning of the pandemic by 11%.

A self-described impassioned activist and designer for equity, Shelby explained how the core design principles for Community First! Village have evolved from the initial objective of designing a 200 square foot home with a bedroom and living space for a generic client. As Phase II gets underway, the homes are now being considered in the context of the neighborhood, with shared connections encouraged where possible. An ah-ha moment for Shelby was when a Community First! Village staffer shared which of the initial tiny house designs tended to be selected by new residents first, and why. She then collaborated with the AIA Austin DesignVoice committee to design a post-occupancy study for residents of Phase I and the findings helped inform the next generation of residential designs in the village, incorporating the voices and experiences of the people who had actually lived in the homes.

Today, Shelby is challenging herself and her Page colleagues to revisit completed projects, research the results that users are experiencing and analyze the outcomes. Due to the time, effort and cost, post-occupancy evaluations are not a standard industry activity but Shelby is promoting it as an opportunity to provide an additional service to Page clients.

To hear the Shared Space with Erin Peavey podcast about designing to end homelessness, click here.

To read the related cover story in Architect Magazine, click here.

“One woman I spoke with who had been homeless and estranged from her family told me she has found a new family at Community First! Village. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I am going to die here, I am not going anywhere else. This is my community, this is my home.” I think it’s really beautiful and wonderful that the community is set up to be one that people want to be in rather than a steppingstone to help people get back on their feet and into some other “normal” looking situation. This is truly an example of design that makes lives better.” – Shelby Blessing, AIA

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