December 10, 2015

HALA Design Studio

Contributed by Rick Mohler

An adequate, affordable supply of housing is the lifeblood of culturally rich, diverse, and livable urban centers. Without this, people who work here will be forced to move out of the city, with dire impacts not only on individual lives, but also on the region: more traffic congestion, increased environmental degradation, and fragmentation of communities. Housing affordability must remain a cornerstone of our city’s commitment to an equity agenda that ensures a fundamental fairness for each individual and community that calls Seattle home. Without vigilance, we risk becoming a city accessible only to the affluent and privileged.

– From HALA Report Executive Summary – July 13, 2015

 Seattle, which 15 years ago ranked among the country’s most livable cities, is contending with unprecedented growth, is among the most unaffordable cities in the country, is nationally ranked among cities with the worst traffic congestion and is confronted with a rapidly expanding homeless population.  In 2014 Mayor Ed Murray formed the Advisory Committee for the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), to encourage Seattle’s citizenry to respond to these challenges in accord with its proclaimed values of social equity and environmental stewardship. The committee comprised of citizens, housing activists, developers, architects and community organizers proposed strategies to add 20,000 units of affordable housing and 30,000 units of market rate housing over the next decade.  While many of the proposals are more concerned with law and finance than design a number of them are bold and unprecedented steps toward increased density and livability in land use zones throughout the city.

The HALA studio analyzed and explored a number of the design related HALA recommendations with the intention of advancing a meaningful city wide discussion and positively influencing public policy.  While housing affordability and livability is the focus of the studio, the breadth of investigation extended beyond housing itself to re-envision a specific neighborhood – Wallingford – and, by extension, the city itself.  The studio commenced with an analysis of the neighborhood in small groups.  Students then individually selected projects and sites from a ‘menu’ of options.  The schedule included a concept and intermediate review as well as a field trip to Vancouver to explore that city’s response to a similar set of issues.  The studio concluded with an ‘Open House’ in lieu of a conventional studio review.  The open house fostered a lively and, at times, heated discussion regarding the student work, urbanism, public policy and the broad challenges the city faces.  It was well attended by the co-chairs and members of the HALA Advisory Committee, representatives from the state legislature, the mayor’s office and the Seattle Department of Planning and Development as well as architects, planners, housing and neighborhood activists and the citizenry at large.  The results of the studio will be published in hard copy and digital formats for distribution and presentation to public officials and neighborhood groups alike to allow for additional presentations and to foster continued discussion.