The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has awarded international planning, architecture, engineering, interiors, and program management firm LEO A DALY and its design partner Studio Twenty Seven Architecture with a 2015 Housing Award for La Casa—the first permanent supportive housing project for the homeless in Washington, D.C. The award, which was given in the Specialized Housing category, recognizes outstanding design of housing that meets unique needs—in this case, those of the chronically homeless.
The seven-story, 34,946-square-foot building provides permanent housing and supportive services for 40 men. Rather than functioning as a temporary shelter, where residents are housed at night and asked to leave during the day, each unit is a single-person efficiency that supports stability and predictability as tenants transition out of homelessness. The men in residence participate in a variety of trainings, including life-skills, financial-management, and job-readiness.
La Casa employs the “housing first” service model, which offers permanent housing immediately rather than treating sobriety as a prerequisite, and provides supportive services that reduce the risk of participants returning to homelessness.
“This is an important milestone for the District of Columbia in its continued efforts to redefine the concept of transitional housing,” said Stephen Wright, AIA, managing principal of LEO A DALY Washington, D.C. “Most housing for the homeless focuses on meeting a temporary emergency. La Casa is different. Both its service model and the facility design embrace the individual, and serve his needs for rehabilitation and growth.”
The joint-venture team of LEO A DALY and Studio Twenty Seven Architecture was challenged by the DC Department of Human Services to create a “home” rather than an institution, and to “meet or exceed” the quality of the adjacent market-rate apartments. Situated among the high-density, high-rent apartment buildings of Columbia Heights, La Casa’s design defies the homeless shelter archetype with ample natural light, airy rooms, and striking architectural design.
“The image is very explicitly not that of a homeless shelter; it’s of a permanent housing building,” said Jim Spearman, La Casa’s project architect at Studio Twenty Seven Architecture.
“From the exterior, large and individualized windows on the façade identify particular spaces to which occupants can point and exclaim, ‘That is where I live!’” said a statement on AIA’s Web site. “Striking design fosters a pride of ownership, and the security and predictable domestic environment encourage the continual growth and change of the residents.”
“La Casa is a symbol of what community truly means. The Concept is much more than housing; it is providing our homeless population with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said La Casa assistant director Brooke Lyle.
The ground floor of La Casa includes a welcoming lobby, support offices, and a mail area. A community room on the second floor opens onto an outdoor terrace. The typical floor has seven dwelling units, including one ADA-accessible unit. A green roof contributes to the design’s LEED-Gold certification. Security is provided by a combination of security officers, remotely monitored cameras, and secured door access.
The jury for the 2015 Housing Awards includes: Stephen Schreiber, FAIA, Chair, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Jon Dick, AIA, Archaeo Architects; Kathy Dixon, AIA, K. Dixon Architecture; Clair Enlow, Freelance Writer; and Jody Mcguire, AIA, SALA Architects.