Housing Northwest Arkansas was an initiative led by the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design housingnwa.org/. This three-tiered project included a design studio, regional symposium, and professional design competition. Each of these components added to the in-depth exploration of national and regional housing issues of design, zoning, finance, city planning, community development, and community education. Throughout this exploration, we pursued the goals of educating Fay Jones School students, informing the community, and building a better Northwest Arkansas.
Housing in Northwest Arkansas, like much of the United States, has become bifurcated into two housing types: single-family homes and apartments. Single-family homes in the United States now have a median size of 2,453 square feet and are often isolated from transportation options, making them unattainable for many families. The average size of apartments in the U.S. is less than 900 square feet, making them unlivable for many families. Home to world's largest retailer, Bentonville, Arkansas, is part of the four-city metro and is the 14th fastest growing metro-area in the United States. Like many quickly growing regions housing prices are skyrocketing beyond the reach of median income families.
Attainable housing addresses the needs of households making 60% to 120% of the median income. This demographic typically does not qualify for government subsidized housing, yet may still struggle to find affordable housing. This project explored ways to guide growth through design of mixed-income, mixed-use attainable housing that includes live-work units on several sites.
Twenty-five students were organized in generally three-person teams (one interior designer and two architects). Instructors included visiting professors Anne Fougeron and Kent McDonald from San Francisco. Local faculty were Alison Turner of the architecture department and Carl Matthews, head of the interior design department. A studio field trip to San Francisco focused on studying housing projects by Fougeron, Stanley Saitowitz, and David Baker. Students also presented their schematic proposals to a jury of designers from those offices.
A two-day symposium featured presentations by national experts and moderated discussions by regional and national experts on housing policy, finances, design, development, construction, and city planning. The symposium provided participants with a comprehensive overview of issues, challenges, and design exemplars in attainable, affordable, and mixed-use housing.
The professional design competition included 25 international firms specializing in multi-family housing. Five sites were chosen and five firms presented entries for each site. Awards totaling $50,000 were presented to the winners. These winners are being contracted to realize the projects. At a culminating show the four most provocative student projects were exhibited alongside the professional entries. Students presented their work to Alice Walton and discussed their design strategies with the professional competition winners, developers, and community members. The work was also exhibited at the Venice Architectural Biennale
The Housing Northwest Arkansas initiative was funded by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Through this multi-faceted experience students learned the value of contributing their talents to making high quality housing available to a broader spectrum of citizens.