A couple sentences and some images of sexy architecture is all the explanation prospective and new students get about the From the Ground Up project. And this project is marketed extensively as it is probably the most costly intervention the School of Architecture at SU has participated in. I say “participated in” instead of “completely responsible for” because after talking to the Director of Upstate, Mark Norman, Becky and I learned how limited a role the School of Architecture actually played in the project. Mark was put in as director not long after From the Ground Up was completed.
Mark defends From the Ground up because it accomplished goals like building three new houses and the educating of the city of implementing sustainable energy systems in them, but it failed at others like the goal of affordability ($80,000 each). Each house in the end cost from $250,000-$350,000. These prices were subsidized down to $90,000 each, but this was still way to expensive for anyone to purchase from the neighborhood so people from outside the neighborhood bought them instead. Not only that but no bank would not even give loans on the houses because they appraised much lower then the very subsidized prize because of their location. A local non profit organization, Home Headquarters who donated the three vacant lots, now begrudgingly hold the mortgages.
Was the education purposes worth spending $1 million on houses that are too expensive to be reproduced again? You have to ask yourself how you wold raise $1 million dollars to build more but lower cost houses that aren’t as sexy? That would be too boring to raise funds. And the explanation to prospective students that the houses aren’t as awesome looking but we were able to build more of them instead of just a sexy picture? well, that would just take too long.
U of M and SYR
It’s too bad we didn’t have class today because I felt very rushed in class last week to decide on what our final project will be. I think we should meet before class Tues the 22nd to get some ideas together. To SYR and U or M, Becky and I talked about doing a project related to communication. Communication could possibly be the theme of a curated exhibition at the Store Front (the Store Front is a space that is operated by the Architecture program in downtown Syracuse, we use it to get the word out on projects we are working on). Like Becky’s last post, I think it would be interesting to show work from U of M students in Syracuse, since Detroit and Syracuse are in a similar situation in many ways. From project 2 that I worked on with Secil, I am really interested in how Architecture for Humanity is held responsible for what they do. It was very hard to find critical information about AFH besides smiley, color saturated photos. They are responsible to the local government, which could be opposite of the needs of the clients. Also they are responsible to their funding from businesses like Google. The evidence I found that AFH uses to show their funding support is images with smiley kids suggesting AFH has solved everything and there are no problems now. So the responsibility that they are held to is very narrow with limited visibility. I think communication could raise accountability. I am interested in how the communication gap could be closed between client/NGO/funding, something similar to the bridging that the Center for Urban Pedagogy project, that Carla and Peter worked on, is about. A project that could cross language boundaries and leverage the ability of architects (and artists) to distill complex information into legible graphics. This idea it still very general and I would like other people’s input. I would also like to hear about what other people are interested in working on even if they don’t want to work in collaboration of some degree.