Philadelphia affordable housing

2016 National DiscoverDesign Competition: Design an affordable housing prototype

Define the Problem

26.3% of Philadelphia's population live under the poverty level, ranking it at the highest among the largest 10 cities of the United States. In addition, the incredibly narrow Philadelphia lot and lack of street parking make it very difficult for residents to live comfortably within their homes.


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Collect Info

Location Characteristics: -North Philadelphia lots can typically be 60 by 15 feet -Yards are behind the home and have very little use and access -Row homes seldom have garages and so street parking is always at a premium -Front stoops are popular places to hang out and places where neighbors hang out Requirements for Affordable Housing: -3+ bedrooms, 2 to 3 story with each floor level @ +/-800 sqft -room to expand -at least 1 bathroom -personal place to park car -kitchen, dining room, and living room

Brainstorm Ideas

  • "L"-shaped house with garage in the front. Steps lead up one floor level to entryway with "stoop"/porch on top to allow for both garage and improved "patio space"
  • Green roof for insulation, storm water control, + better utilized yard space away from stray cats and alleyway crime
  • Downstairs can then be expanded to allow for a flexible space that can be utilized as an office, and extra bedrooms, to suit the user's needs
  • Will design a new affordable home using the row home style as it is the most popular housing type in Philadelphia
  • Take inspiration from Tatiana Bilbao's low-income house that incorporates similar shape.

Develop Solutions

  • Philadelphia is extremely hot in the summer season and very cold in the winter season. The solution, a green roof that can provide insulation, as well as reduce stormwater runoff, and provide a much more private, safe, and clean greenspace.
  • One of the main goals of the design was to provide a garage while not losing the important element of a porch. The solution was to combine the two elements and put the porch/patio on top of the garage.
  • The lots are very narrow, so maximizing the floor space was very important to the design. The typical Philadelphia rowhouse ranges inbetween 1500 to 2200 square feet. The design of the house is as large as possible while staying within the same price range - a mortgage of +/- $200,000. The decision was to have a 2000 square foot home at the same height as those around it, but to put the garage in front and have no back yard in the back.
  • Rowhomes are the most popular type of house in Philadelphia. The stairs are designed as such to - make stairs in a home connected. Saves space!
  • The first floor of the house would have the basics a living room, dining room, and kitchen.
  • The second floor has 3 rooms and one bathroom. The purpose of the 3 rooms is for a family of 4
  • Towards the bottom of the house, there is an empty space where it could be used for expansion.

Final Design

For our prototype, we designed our housing units for the incredibly narrow Philadelphia lots. One lot is usually 14 or 15 feet by 60 feet. Therefore, to make the most of space we built up. The row homes in the area are usually made of brick, so we also used the material for the home exterior. In order to give outdoor amenities such as porches while having a garage, we simply put the garage at the front of the house and a patio on top of it. To have space to get down, two units share a staircase. To help reduce heating and cooling costs, along with reducing issues with floodwater, each house has a green roof that could easily become a garden. This design makes use of limited horizontal space while having enough room for a family of four to expand. This design benefits our community as many of the poorer Philadelphia residents live in extremely narrow row homes with little expansion room or access to yards or parks. In addition, these homes tend to overheat in summer and be freezing in winter if one does not want to pay an enormous bill for heat and air conditioning. Since residents are already used to sharing walls and porch space, we took the concept slightly farther by creating porch/patio space that multiple families could gather in, a roof that both helps the insulation issue and gives kids a place to play, and space to keep your car to prevent damage. Our design centers on both making the most of the lot space to give families the most opportunity to add the rooms they want (Offices, extra bedrooms, studios, etc.) and enough gathering space to allow for large amounts of socializing amongst the residents, promoting community gatherings and improved relationships amongst those living therein.


angelovenzon 1 year ago
The rendering the in the chosen location is nice! You actually fit it in the site itself which is actually really unique and executed well. VERY WELL DONE.
c.france 1 year ago
Your design is very unique, and fits in with the surround developments very well, however, if I had one suggestion as means of improvement, I'd point out the use of brick in your design. Full brick siding can range anywhere from $6 - $10 per sq. ft, which can add up pretty fast. I appreciate that you designed it to fit in with other Philadelphian homes, but something like Fiber Cement Siding would be a fraction of the cost, and you could do some interesting / creative stuff with it since its quite versatile. Overall, good work though!