Thursday, December 5, 2002
Standing among a display of more than 100 progressive, attractive and creative designs for housing in the Monterey Bay area, Carmel architect Brian Congleton sips from a pint bottle of water, talking about the realities of actually building any of it.
"With the exception of the water, there''s really a good chance these will happen here. We need four things: Land, water, money and entitlement," he says, taking another sip. "It really comes down to the water."
Congleton is one of the organizers of a contest dubbed "Concepts: Housing Solutions for our Communities," put on by the American Institute of Architects of Monterey Bay (AIAMB). The architects have undertaken a design competition that solicited new housing ideas from around the world for implementation here.
Last weekend, the designs were on display at the Marina Municipal Airport for review by local politicians, developers and the public. The displayed results challenge existing notions of what defines housing, "affordable" or otherwise.
The competition was born of a meeting between Rep. Sam Farr and two local architects, officers of the AIAMB. They were in Washington, DC in February 2001 for a national convention and stopped in to see the local congressman. Farr, who has been vocal about creating local affordable housing, told them that architects can be the visionaries in one of the region''s exasperating problems. Part of that vision is creating affordable housing that''s aesthetically and economically pleasing.
The architects took the challenge and, soon after, the AIAMB began organizing the competition, advertising in trade journals and at design schools.
The response was tremendous. One hundred thirty-four proposals came in from all over America as well as Japan, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland and Australia.
Apparently at least one crew of designers worked right up to the deadline. "I opened one from Poland and the cigarette smoke just billowed out," Congleton says.
Besides cigarette smoke, what came back were innovative designs for housing in the various categories laid out by the local architects: mixed use (flats above storefronts); urban infill; specialty housing such as farmworker and employee housing; and new or prototype housing. A separate category was created for housing that breaks paradigms or changes the rules.
The competing architects were instructed to draw plans without consideration for specific sites. They were told to just get their ideas on paper and send them in.
Many of the entrants, however, researched the Monterey Bay area and came up with proposals that tried to fit the local landscape. Some of it might work, some might not.
Many of the designs are modular and easily transported. Many make use of nature''s gifts with open designs that promote airflow and existing light. Some have cisterns to collect rainwater and photovoltaic cells to collect solar energy. One combines cisterns and voltaic cells with wok-shaped dishes that collect both.
One of the favorites came in from a Half Moon Bay architect. It''s a New Urban design of pre-fabricated duplex homes placed back to back rather than side-by-side. The design uses a minimum of land and the street connecting the homes is as wide as a driveway, built with pedestrians in mind.
"This would fall right into Carmel," Congleton says.
Some were more problematic. One proposal for farmworker housing placed it on either side of Highway 101, creating a chute effect and some noisy living rooms. Another design was tailored to be placed along Del Monte Avenue in Monterey, in the newly created Windows on the Bay open space. Since the City of Monterey has spent millions to create the open space, chances are that building in it would be unacceptable.
Another proposal for tent-like lightweight structures to house farmworkers might find a place in the agricultural districts, but Congleton thinks it''d be ideal for hospitality worker housing in Big Sur. Designs for re-using warehouse space might not have too much use in this area, he says, as warehouses are not prevalent nor of the type anyone would want to occupy.
In what might be symbolic of the desperate housing situation here, one architect designed a living space that''s built into the walls of a school. It''s called "inhabited fence."
One design in the "paradigm shift" category caused quite a stir: The proposal is to build an island in the bay near Moss Landing and plant it with high-rise apartment buildings.
"That''s probably been the most controversial of them all," Congleton says.
Others took the competition as a chance to make political statements. One proposal provided "housing for the proletariat" around a golf course, which was designated as "recreation for the bourgeois."
Another started its presentation off with the sentence, "A vicious cycle of capitalist urbanism resides in Monterey County, devouring the social fabric and sterilizing the community in the depths of its putrid bowels."
Local politicians and planners were invited to review the proposals.
Ila Mettee-McCutchon, mayor-elect of Marina, said she particularly liked the proposals for infill design, which use or re-use existing space within city boundaries. She says she hopes that some of the Peninsula cities with less open land than Marina took notice of the infill designs.
"There are some things that can be done with smaller parcels of land with higher densities and environmentally-friendly design," she says.
To Mettee-McCutchon, one matter that needs to be overcome before any of the ideas can be implemented is what she sees as the housing imbalance-her city is resisting the pressure to provide the bulk of local affordable housing for the area.
Nick Papadakis was one of the local judges to review the drawings. As director of Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) he has a wide-angle view of the regional housing situation. Some of the designs he found to have use here.
"If we eliminate the ones in the extremely innovative side, like building [an island] in the bay, I thought there were quite a few that were applicable."
Each design is estimated to have cost $15,000 to create. Competition officials note that between all the submissions, $2 million worth of design has been gathered for free. Now local governments, planners and developers have 134 designs to draw on.
"People can benefit not just from the 10 or 12 we selected, but from all of them," Papadakis says.
A first round of winners has been chosen to proceed to a second phase that calls for site-specific designs. The architects will be challenged to overcome certain limitations, like as Congleton says, the overall lack of water in the region.
Another consideration will be existing rules that dictate exactly how housing must be constructed.
One of the local judges, retired architect and former Carmel planning commissioner and city councilman Olaf Dahlstrand, was impressed by the designs. Some of the proposals will require changes to zoning ordinances and other restrictions, but he thinks maybe that''s what''s needed.
"That''s the major obstacle, if there is one, is getting the political problems solved," he says. "It does point out there''s a lot of things in our zoning ordinances that are sacrosanct, that we don''t want to touch, that may need to be revisited for the sake of the viability of our communities in the future."
The competition has established a Web site with a wealth of regional housing and planning data as well as updates about the contest. For more information, consult www.concepts.aiamb.org