Convergence: A New Future for the Samuel Madden Homes


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Virginia Tech


Housing in prosperous American cities is becoming increasingly expensive, forcing many municipal governments to re-evaluate how they will continue to serve lower-income residents and ensure equitable access to housing and resources. In the City of Alexandria, the Alexandria Re-Development and Housing Authority (ARHA) has worked in recent years to partner with private developers to convert its existing stock of low-density, designated-affordable housing into more dense, mixed-income communities. This is possible because many of its existing communities sit on land in now-prime locations where the City currently allows the most density, as well as bonus density through a variety of mechanisms.

While these projects have succeeded to some extent, the City is unfortunately still seeing a rapid rise in rents accompanied by a rapid decrease in available affordable housing of all types, in both privately-developed and publicly-subsidized communities. Increasing income disparity is also simultaneously driving lower-income to middle-class residents to suburban and exurban sites where limited access to municipal resources and public transportation can be highly detrimental to quality of life.

While additional density is the knee-jerk response to many of affordability's challenges, often the resulting built solutions seem incomplete – achieving the basic goal of housing more residents, but failing to build thriving and diverse communities that connect people the way previous communities may have. After all, the pragmatics of building generally point towards maximizing square footage, monetary return, and speed of delivery by using conventional and commonly-accepted solutions, with less energy given to resident outcomes, and how people might be affected by the change to their living environments and communities.

As Jan Gehl and Jane Jacobs examined in Cities for People and The Death and Life of Great American Cities respectively, simple pragmatics do not make for livable environments. A truly humanist approach to design for living in cities requires not only good policy, practice, and engagement, but also architectural strategies that respond to how humans relate to each other and their surroundings.

Convergence explores how designers can contribute to making urban housing better for everyone by addressing housing affordability, person-to-person interaction, and community engagement in increasingly-dense environments.

Its primary objectives are:

• Encouraging neighborliness by increasing chance encounters as well as reducing the sharp threshold between private and public space often found in apartment-style buildings. • Increasing the visibility of human activity to the street in a multi-floor, multi-family project. • Using new mass timber methods and modularity to improve initial building construction and cost while also incorporating sustainable practices to reduce resource use and operating cost. • Anticipating that modification and reconfiguration will be required in the future, and offering defined parameters to simplify that process. • Creating a variety of unit sizes while also offering future flexibility to respond to changing community needs. • Combining the familiar with the novel to connect the new community to its surroundings, bridge experiences, and manage change.



Affordable Housing, Mixed-Income Housing, Densification, Community Design, Re-Development, Mixed-Use, Cross-Laminated Timber, Glulam, Light Wells, Urban Infill, Alexandria