Who Says “Affordable” Housing Has To Be Ugly?

Not Friends for Fullerton’s Future. We subscribe to the opinion that good architecture – innovative, attractive, engaging architecture, need cost no more than bad architecture – non-functional, boring, banal, tacky architecture. So there’s really no excuse for housing developed by non-profits to be substandard, especially when it relies on huge governement subsidies.

Here’s an example of a subsidized housing project on Chapman Avenue. A hodgepodge of “styles”It was built during the mid-90s and can only be described as, well, really bad. The building closest to the street is a stucco box with flush, cheapo windows, and fake shutters – which have been removed, or mercifully fell off. Well maybe we’re just imagining the shutters. The parking structure actually has little roofed stucco boxes stuck on to the front of it, no doubt to make it look “residential” from Chapman Avenue. We wonder what kind of an idiot would mistake a parking structure for a house; or who wouldn’t be offended by someone’s effort to fool him.

Stucco boxes for humans and their cars!
Stucco boxes for humans and their cars!

A more recent aesthetic travesty was perpetrated by Habitat for Humanity on Valencia Avenue in the barrio. The theme here seems to be fake Craftsman; the awkward angles and ridiculous fenestration make it look as if an untalented child drew the elevations. Oh boy! fake rock plinths for the porch posts.

Craftsman Without The Craft...
Craftsman Without The Craft...

Hard to believe, but the apartments the City is buying and demolishing in order to build this other stuff looks better – even boarded up with plywood!

Suddenly, This Doesn't Look So Bad...
Suddenly, This Doesn't Look So Bad...

Now, our purpose here is not to belittle people trying to do good, or even to make fun of untalented children. But rather to point out that neither of the these two examples needed to end up like they did – if in fact an intelligent design review process had decided that low income people shouldn’t have to live in cheap-looking, ugly housing.

Of course we have an ulterior motive for this post. First, the Redevelopment Agency is going to be spending ever-increasing amounts on subsidized housing in the coming years, with or without expansion. Regardless of one’s opinion about this sort of government activity we want to make sure that these projects achieve the highest design standards – not the lowest – as has been the case (see also the recent post on the Allen Hotel). Second, and more specifically, we are extremely concerned about the upcoming Richman project. The selected developer, the Olson Co., is not known for their aesthetic creativity, and will, if allowed, cough up another McSpanish McMess. Their architect is the same individual responsible for the Habitat for Humanity project.

It’s time for Fullerton’s Friends to insist on better, sustainable architecture when it’s subsidized by the taxpayers.

We’re all paying for it. Now and in the future.

8 Replies to “Who Says “Affordable” Housing Has To Be Ugly?”

  1. I wonder, would designs such as the Schermerhorn House in NYC have gotten passed here? Or would they have been deemed as unacceptably modern?

    Harpoon, you might want to post some photos of good design for public housing across the US and in the world, along with our own less-inspired ones. And some links as well in the article. If you have a reading list –then post it!

  2. the buildings featured here are no worse or better than those buildings cited as blight in fullerton. the subsidized houses and other redevolpment buildings are uglier because a group of unremarkable people are given gads of tax dollar money and latitude to dictate a town’s aesthetics. fullerton’s city council lack of vision for our town is exemplified in these shoddy, hodge-podge structures

  3. Aw, Miss K you sweet thang, you read my mind. It was gonna be on a separate post about the history of Fullerton’s “City Lights” SRO project. But here’s a teaser:


    A lot of work in housing projects in SD. Could have had him here except for…

  4. Wrong, admin. Not Jones or Flory. They weren’t reading their scripts yet. Howzabout:


    I’ll be dealing with Jones, Flory and the Second Act of the SRO presently. And it won’t be pretty.

  5. I remember Quigley’s work up in Palo Alto.
    Seems these are examples of sustainable materials as well.
    I’ve also looked around the Common Ground site a bit more. There’s a whole list of old and new projects they’ve done. All are interesting and functional. A mix of new and rehabbed.
    Including this one in Times Square (NYC):
    “Common Ground carefully preserved the building’s historic character while redeveloping it into housing for 652 low-income and formerly homeless individuals and persons living with HIV/AIDS.”

    So, if they can coordinate efforts of this scale in NYC, certainly the same type of thing could be done on a smaller one in Fullerton?

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