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The Revitalization of Woodhill Homes

FINALIST : 2017 HUD IAH COMPETITION

Objective: To design a comprehensive architectural, planning, and financial proposal for the renovation and revitalization of Cleveland's Woodhill Homes.

Response: Various qualities of Woodhill Homes stood out as opportunities rather than hindrances. Among these are the existing robust building stock and strong unit plans, the community’s relatively good connection to nearby transit hubs and amenities, and an “urban grain” which  could and should support a healthy block structure.  However, the reality is that these features have taken on a spatial and social homogeneity that seems quite unhealthy.  So in order to reconcile this, a set of over-arching aspirations for our project were established; Introduce clear definition of the public and private realms, accommodate a wide variety of family types, and foster a sense of individuality and ownership. In addition to these conceptual goals, a thoughtfulness and sensitivity with respect to scope and building materials was paramount.

Our proposal begins with the introduction of a laneway-based urban grid.  This time-tested strategy significantly breaks the invisible boundary between the community and the rest of the city and acts as the framework for the rest of the proposal.  On top of defining various spatial conditions, it gives the neighborhood and buildings two things they do not currently have – fronts and a backs.  This distinction is critical for defining levels of privacy and security, and also for allocating what type of traffic goes where.  So with a framework in place, this hierarchical approach was proliferated to develop three levels of three urban conditions; Circulation, Open Space, and Architecture.

The three scales of circulation are; the mid-block laneway, the revised street section, and a modestly articulated road.  This hierarchy of circulation sets up the three scales of open space as well; the private front and back yards, the public squares located in each village, and a large central park that acts as the new green lung for the community.

The three levels of Architecture begin with the first that is a series of general upgrades to the existing building stock.  Most of the current structures appear to be quite robust so preserving them is the most cost effective and sustainable solution.  However, a series of simple upgrades is proposed that would significantly improve the performance of the building envelope.  The first of which is the installation of new roofing to all of the housing blocks.  The buildings that currently have flat roofs are to receive a newly framed gable roof to match that of their neighbors. The second general improvement is the installation of new windows and doors. The third modification is the increasing of the R-value for the exterior walls.  By adding a layer of insulation to the exterior of the building, there is an opportunity to decrease energy usage and to also install a new weather barrier and re-seal the buildings. Now since a layer of insulation can not be the new façade, there is a final general upgrade; a curated catalogue of unit-specific improvements.  A modest set of items -- things like cladding, front porches, and landscaping elements – should be established prior to the renovation of the buildings. Each unit would be given a financial allowance as part of the general upgrades budget and the installation would occur in conjunction with the other renovations.  While the catalogue would be curated in a manner that any combination would be desirable, the opportunity for the people living in and occupying the units to have even a little bit of say in the final result is invaluable.

The second level of Architecture is the construction of four-unit inter-generational infill buildings.  There is a common, slightly awkward condition that exist between the offset housing blocks.  This space not only presents a socially problematic pocket of land, but it also acts a major interruption in the street frontage.  This proposal calls for a gasket-like building type that reconciles the misaligned ridges and completes the street wall.  The resulting length of the building is far more consistent with that of a typical urban block.  Because the depth and width of the new infill piece does not correspond with that of typical unit dimensions, an innovative scheme that squeezes four interlocking units into the shape was designed.  This articulation provides each unit with a ground floor entrance and, more importantly, two orientations that afford each unit cross ventilation.

The third level of Architecture is comprised of new standalone buildings.  By combining the advantages of two common housing types; the bungalow or ground floor flat, and the townhouse, a new type is established.  The former presents certain accessibility standards that appeal to older folks, or potentially those with physical ailments, while the latter is a great way of accommodating families in urban settings by way of its density, multiple levels and access to private open space.  This new type, which is called the “Townhome Plus”, sees the placing of a typical townhouse on top of a ground floor unit.  This module is then repeated, just like a typical townhouse, and the upper unit’s private green space is relocated to on top of the ground level unit.

Completed: April 2017

Collaborators: Rachel Boyd, Susan Wang, Grace Carroll, Wilson Carroll