Maurice Cox
Brian Kelly Maurice Cox

In 2009, Maurice Cox, now director of the City of Detroit’s planning and development department­, and his friend Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, managing principal of Brooks + Scarpa, had an idea. Inspired by the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, an initiative to help mayors learn more about urban planning and design, Cox and Scarpa decided to create a similar institute focused on affordable housing. The concept: connect nonprofit developers with architects, both to improve the design of projects and to influence public policy about community-based development.

Larry Scarpa
Brian Guido Larry Scarpa

Founded in 2010, the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute is one of the winners of the 2018 AIA Collaborative Achievement Award, which recognizes partnerships that have made significant contributions to the profession. The institute is directed by Katherine Swenson, vice president of national design initiatives at the Boston-based nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners.

Each year, over the course of three days, developers and city officials from around the country present real-life projects, which are then critiqued by a team of designers. “The developers learn about design, and it changes the way they think about affordable housing,” Swenson says. “Developers never have a chance to do this. They’re too busy building our cities and our neighborhoods. We encourage them to look beyond the number of units in a project and really think about the people they’re trying to serve, and how design will help them achieve their goals.”

Katherine Swenson
Tony Luong Katherine Swenson

In a survey of institute participants, 95 percent of developers say they now work more effectively with their designers, and 85 percent report that they now consider design issues earlier in the development process. “Design is becoming a NIMBY-neutralizer in communities that are skeptical of affordable housing,” Scarpa says. “There’s power in good design.”

Other 2018 AIA Honor Awards: