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Habitat for Humanity Prototype

El Dorado

Project Name

Habitat for Humanity Prototype

Year Completed



1,300 sq. feet


Heartland Habitat for Humanity


  • Josh Shelton, AIA
  • Steve Salzer, AIA, Brandon Froelich


  • Structural Engineer: Bob D. Campbell and Co.
  • Electrical Engineer: PKMR Engineering
  • Construction Manager: Heartland Habitat for Humanity—Steve Thompson (vice president of construction & project management)
  • General Contractor: Heartland Habitat for Humanity—Matt Trusty (site supervisor)

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As the sloping metal roofs of this bungalow and its detached garage meet over an intimate enclosed courtyard, its half-scissor trusses and tri-tone cement board exterior clearly state: “Architects were here.”

Yet as one considers the rough surrounding neighborhood, where most of the houses have either fallen on hard times or been demolished entirely, that statement turns into a question: “But how did they get here?”

The 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house is a Habitat for Humanity prototype designed by principal Josh Shelton, AIA, and project architects Brandon Froelich and Steve Salzer, AIA, of the Kansas City, Mo.–based firm El Dorado, and built by Kansas City, Kan.–based Heartland Habitat for Humanity on the Kansas side of the border.

It is a result of the 1% Habitat Initiative, a partnership between San Francisco–based Public Architecture and Habitat for Humanity International. The initiative paired seven of the affordable housing group’s most successful chapters with local architects whose design expertise and commitment to pro bono work were well established. Their mission was to improve the quality of homes built by Habitat chapters.

The partnership between the Kansas Citians wasn’t without a learning curve. “We are all about simple and affordable,” says Heartland Habitat’s president and chief executive officer Tom Lally. “El Dorado learned our process, needs, and desired outcomes, and we learned a tremendous amount from them.”

What Shelton observed of Heartland Habitat’s standard attached-garage plan was how the layout of the houses could influence family dynamics. “It has two basement bedrooms and one on the main level,” he says. “It makes sense from a cost standpoint but it’s difficult, especially for a single mom.”

He also wanted the house to better connect its owners to the outdoors. “We put everything on one level, moved out the garage, and added an outdoor room between them,” Shelton says, “so you transition from one aspect of the house to another, extending the front porch, and providing space for a garden.” It is a Joseph Eichler house, Kansas City–style.

“This was a major experiment, and it was a real risk for Heartland,” Shelton says. “We’ve worked with severe budgets before, but designing with volunteer labor in mind was something new for us.”

But designing a project with “prototype” in the name didn’t go to their heads. “The measure of success of this project isn’t necessarily that they build 50 more of our houses,” says Shelton. “The important thing is that the conversation left an impact on Habitat, and the way they do things left an impact on us.”—Katie Gerfen

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