Affordability was the primary focus of Parsons’s Empowerhouse, designed in collaboration with
Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., and the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “The affordability challenge was a saving grace,” says Amanda Waal, a recent Parsons master’s graduate. “It streamlined the project and made the essence of every component stand out, because we couldn’t gild every lily. We had to make choices we firmly believed in.” The strategy paid off: Empowerhouse tied for first in the affordability category. The team chose rot-resistant and long-lasting cedar siding for the exterior, and cost-efficient bamboo flooring inside. A millwork company made melamine-finished cabinetry that proved cheaper than comparable IKEA cabinets. The house incorporated Passive House technologies, which will save 90 percent of the energy required for heating and cooling in a typical Washington, D.C., residence. During design, the team met frequently with community stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the neighborhood’s and resident’s needs, resulting in the design of a welcoming front porch, a private back porch with storage space, and an interior flex space that incorporates built-in shelving. The house is promised to a family that came for a tour during the event.