Lilac Groove by White Design

Affordable and Not Horrible: Affordable Housing Developments Do Not Have to be Ugly.

In this insightful article, award winning real-estate economist Tayo Odunsi, discusses the importance of aesthetics in the design of affordable housing developments (which are notorious for being unsightly). Mr.Odunsi cites the importance of good design as a major influencer of mood, health and behaviour, disabusing the notion that good design must be expensive or costly. He goes on to state that good design can be achieved economically, offering 3 case studies as proof.

In her book – The Language of Houses, Alison Lurie the American writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, holds that, Every building’s architecture affects human beings differently, but what is at the heart of that affection for beautiful buildings and the disdain for ugly ones is a universal language. She couldn’t be truer. Neuroesthetics is a branch of neuroscience that studies the sensual basis for the appreciation of artistic endeavours such as music, art or any other creation by aesthetic perception such as architecture. The existence of this field of study confirms the reality of this “universal language”. Indeed, the architecture of beautiful buildings can make us cheerful and happy, but ugly ones also have the potency to make us sad and melancholy.

In a bid to achieve affordability, design and aesthetics should never be ignored. Houses ought to be a place where children and parents gladly retire to, daily after work, play or learning. It is therefore paramount that the home breeds joy and peace. Irrespective of personal architectural preferences; whether classic or contemporary, ancient or modern, a beautiful building is clear to all just as an ugly one repels. Unfortunately, most people, home designers inclusive, think a beautiful building must be expensive. Clearly, with an open budget a lot of Architects may be able to take a stab at creating a masterpiece, but beauty can also be achieved economically.

Case Studies

Walmer Link is a gated privately developed residential community that comprises 29 apartment blocks amounting to a total of 347 accommodation units in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Walmer Link is simply a beauty. But it is also affordable. More accurately, it is in part social rental housing and partly affordable housing available for outright purchase. The social housing development portion was funded by government subsidies available for social rental housing developments while the affordable housing portion was financed by the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP). Consequently, the sale prices of houses at Walmer Link are lower than comparable properties available in the townships. Yet this affordable development is a celebrated beauty winning a regional award for architecture in the Eastern Cape.

Similarly, Bayview Hills Gardens in San Francisco is both an affordable housing project and stunningly attractive. (Read our feature on the project here) The project comprises 73 green homes specifically targeted at youths formerly in foster care and families who were homeless. The project won the affordable residential real estate deal of the year 2014 in San Francisco. The building was previously a derelict motel and criminal hideout. Bayview Hills is very artsy and green, funded through collaborations with civic-minded community members and organizations.

Lilac Groove in Leeds is described as the UK’s first affordable ecological co-housing project. Lilac is an acronym for Low Impact Living Affordable Community, founded by a Leeds University geography lecturer – Dr. Paul Chatterton and a few others, with a mission to create eco-friendly and affordable homes. The homes were built using a new low-carbon construction technology called ModCell. The method uses straw and timber to create super-insulated wall panels. The project suffered a prolonged delay in execution primarily due to funding which was provided by the co-housing members. At the end, a multi-award winning minimalist and green housing development that houses twenty happy households was the pleasant result.

Walmer Link, Bayview Hills and Lilac Groove, along with a myriad of other architecturally pleasing affordable housing projects, which dot the landscapes of cities and towns all across the world go to prove that affordable housing can be both affordable and beautiful.

About the Author

Tayo Odunsi is a chartered surveyor and real estate economist. He holds a MSc. in real estate finance and investment from the University of Reading and an MBA from the Imperial College London. He is the CEO of Northcourt Real Estate a real estate research, brokerage and management company with offices in Lagos and Abuja. Northcourt won the 2016 Euromoney Real Estate award for best real estate advisor in Nigeria. Contact:

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