Ellie Abrons + Meredith miller


According to a recently published report, housing construction in the U.S. is lagging behind the increasing demand for smaller rental units. Additionally, the multi-family buildings that are being constructed target high-income tenants, squeezing out middle- and low-income households. Overall, vacancy rates are down, rents are rising, and incomes are stagnant. These problems are compounded by the dominance of an American emblem in the built environment: the owner-occupied single-family home. 

For 75% of residential land in the U.S., zoning ordinances continue to prohibit anything other than a detached single-family house. The significance of this legacy is multifold. The laws regulating housing density were enacted as a way to intentionally segregate neighborhoods by race and class and they still function as such. Single-family houses are more expensive to build, purchase, and maintain than denser units, making them unattainable to many. And their large footprints, low density, and typical reliance on automobiles make single-family homes far more carbon-intensive than multi-unit buildings. Spurred by these crises in housing affordability, racial equity, and climate change, many municipalities have begun to challenge the sustainability of such an exclusive form of housing. 

The continued authority of these historic zoning ordinances are at the center of debates around how to make housing more affordable, pitting YIMBY’s against NIMBY’s. “Yes-in-my-back-yard” advocates are calling for zoning reform to increase density by allowing more dwelling units per property. In opposition, “not-in-my-back-yard” groups are actively resisting changes that would allow more people to move into their communities — often in the name of ‘preserving neighborhood character’ but in effect, keeping their neighborhoods exclusive and inaccessible. 

This tension has led to cities with dense downtown cores sprinkled with market-rate or luxury housing and sprawling residential neighborhoods populated by expensive, single-family detached homes. Recently, some have begun to advocate for a housing typology that mediates between these two extremes in order to increase neighborhood density and thus, housing affordability. Called “Missing Middle Housing,” this typology is emerging as a strategy for working incrementally against the strictures of zoning to create a walkable density close to urban centers. 

While it holds promise, the concept of Missing Middle Housing was designed to preserve the ‘traditional character’ of single-family neighborhoods. As such, many Missing Middle projects are orthodox in their design, missing an opportunity to merge increased density and scale with innovations in construction and materials or forward-thinking ideas about lifestyle and program. Grounded in this contemporary debate around affordable density, this studio experiments with alternate notions of ‘middle’ that can make high-quality homes accessible to more residents. The Missing Middle is both a model and a foil for the work of the studio which explores a greater range of hybrid scales, unit densities, and building types between the two extremes of the single unit and the monolithic housing block. 

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Student Work

Jamie Wiberg + Jay Schairbaum + Victor Mardikian “In [Medias] Res”

Detroit has historically relied on the single-family detached home as its primary typology for its urban densification. Catalyzed by the second industrial revolution, Detroit’s rapid urbanization resulted in the proliferation of the single-family detached home while other American cities embraced changing housing demands by providing “middle housing” such as duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and cottage courts.

Detroit, with a few exceptions, continued to build based on the romanticization of the American Dream: a singular home with a backyard, parking, and lifestyle all for oneself. The strategy we propose for the Butzel site within the Islandview and Greater Village Neighborhood redefines Detroit’s “missing middle” to fit the city’s contemporary needs with respect to the existing urban fabric.

In our proposal, the demising wall between units becomes highly optimized and activated. House necessities such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry facilities, and vertical circulation are programmed within the wall. Like the single house and the townhouse, each unit has its own designated entrance on the ground floor eliminating the need for shared corridors. Paradoxically, the shared aspects are done so subliminally through the architecture such as the wet-walls in the sharing of mechanical systems. The living private spaces use the logic of an open floor plan and can be divided with partition walls to create bedrooms and spaces as needed.

The goal of the project is to elevate Detroit’s housing stock by remaining sensitive to the existing context and provide high-quality spaces that are flexible enough to respond to individuals and families shifting needs.

Claire Shue + Brian Pekar + Zach Stewart “The Cat[walks] and the Hat[s]”

The ambitions of the project included developing attainable housing that fosters community connections in both familiar and novel ways. It seeks to address a dialogue and sensibility with the site’s shifting conditions and future aspirations, all while using stock materials to form a series of unexpected exterior conditions. It also seeks to create unique and intimate domestic
conditions for residents of all types to enjoy. Two unique building typologies populate the site. Larger bar buildings along Kercheval Avenue address the edges of the lot to create a strong urban condition and work together with an exterior catwalk circulation system to capture outdoor space. Kercheval buildings further back from the street look to funnel the conditions of Butzel Park into the site and deliberately blur the boundary between the two. The second building type lines Townsend Avenue. These buildings follow a courtyard typology and are smaller in scale to react to the more residential nature of the street.
A three piece CLT kit-of-parts structural system was used across all buildings. The first piece, the program module, is understood as a floor condition as well as the residential programming elements, the interior walls, ducts and plumbing. Second, the wall condition, which includes vertical structural systems and window apertures of the units. The third piece, the hats, are a series of ceiling and roof conditions that top each module. Aggregated together, they could create almost unlimited permutations of unit layouts.

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