LA Forum spoke with Karen Kubey, an urbanist and architectural educator specializing in housing and health. Kubey co-founded the Architecture for Humanity New York chapter (now Open Architecture/New York) and New Housing New York, and was the first executive director of the Institute for Public Architecture. She has guest-edited Housing as Intervention: Architecture towards Social Equity (Architectural Design), and has recently collaborated with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Housing Authority. Trained as an architect at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, Karen began her career in affordable housing design. She is a visiting associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Design and has received support from the New York State Council on the Arts and The MacDowell Colony..
The new edition of AD: Housing as Intervention covers a broad territory— geographical, approach-wise and process-wise. How did this collection of 17 essays come together?
I wanted to take on urgent social and economic inequities that intersect with housing and share stories of how architects around the world are working to address them in meaningful ways. Rather than limit the collection to one housing issue or one approach, the 17 essays explore interconnected social, economic, and health equity concerns and highlight a range of promising approaches that architects can take. The book brings in a combination of leading voices in the field, pressing issues, promising models, and under-documented geographies. What I love about the contributors’ essays is that they show inspiring housing projects and the collaborative processes behind them— that have been achieved within our current housing systems — along with a glimpse of what might be possible with more equitable policies and funding. As this book has come together over almost three years, AD commissioning and managing editors Helen Castle and Caroline Ellerby have provided invaluable support.
You talk about an architect-led development and design process as a different approach to the status-quo. Does L.A.’s unique conditions and rich past of experimenting with design make the city a special kind of lab for a different approach to the development process?
I once started a conversation with an L.A. housing architect, telling him how jealous I was that he got to work in the city famous for influential housing models like the Case Study Houses, along with year-round good weather. His response: “Every time we try to build a project, we get sued.” So I think we need to look at L.A.’s unique opportunities for forward-looking housing design alongside its specific challenges. Dana Cuff’s story in the book, on her decade-long project with UCLA’s cityLAB around accessory dwelling units, which culminated in legislation that eased the path for the development of ADUs statewide (co-authored by Cuff), exemplifies both the kind of influential housing work that can come out of L.A., as well as the potential for greater impact in residents’ lives when architects take on expanded roles.
In the publication, you highlight new models of inclusive housing, affordability and thriving communities in addition to partnerships and collaborations as instruments towards greater social equality. What is the greatest take-away that architects, designers and developers will gain from this collection?
I hope that the multiplicity of approaches, issues, and places represented in the book will allow architects and builders around the world to find lessons applicable to their own projects. In a broad sense, Housing as Intervention is about asserting the value of housing design and collaborative design processes in the face of issues that might seem so much bigger that “architecture.” Someone focused on racial and economic disparities in health outcomes, for instance, might think she can’t afford the time or money to worry about housing design. A piece like ISA— Interface Studio Architects’ “Designing for Impact: Tools for Reducing Disparities in Health” shows that, in fact, she— or we as a society— can’t afford not to.
LA Forum will host Kubey and other panelists in conversation this Thursday evening on equity in housing.