2016 National DiscoverDesign Competition – Affordable Housing Prototype

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Affordable Green Home
Affordable Home Prototype

The annual National Competition is a nationwide ideas competition which challenges participants to think outside the box and use the design process to create solutions to real-world problems. The competition is hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring people to discover why design matters.


In the United States, the term "affordable housing" is used to describe housing, rental or owner-occupied, that is affordable to the "median household income" Currently, there is a lack of affordable housing across the country and architects, urban planners, and designers are trying to find creative solutions to this crisis. To solve the problem they are using large sets of data about location, population, average income and other local information to inform their design choices.

2016 National DiscoverDesign Competition Design Challenge

Design an affordable housing prototype for your local town/city or location of your choice. Use neighborhood and city data to inform your design decisions and present a digital or physical model for an affordable housing unit that serves at least one family of four. Your design must:

  • identify a specific audience in need of housing (families, elderly, etc),
  • make sense in context with the other buildings in the area 
  • show evidence of your data research.

In writing and visuals you will need to make a case for why and how your final design "works" as an affordable housing solution for your chosen location.

Green Home Prototype
Digital Model of an Affordable Home

About Affordable Housing

Houses are considered “affordable” when people below the “median household income” are able to afford them. The median household income changes from region to region, so it is important to know what is affordable in the area you've chosen for your design solution. The National Association of Realtors releases a localized Housing Affordability Index Use this to inform your budget for your house prototype.

While you may not be able to estimate the precise cost to build your housing unit, or how much it will cost for a person(s) to rent or own, you are required to give a reasonable estimate based on size and amount of materials to ensure that your guess is affordable to people making the median household income.

About Prototypes

A prototype is a template design that addresses the specific needs outlined and could be modified to suit alternate locations or replicated many times over. It is important to consider climate, landscape, and general needs in the area to make design decisions. A well-thought out design decision is made of the right materials, and is a design many people need.

About Open Source Data

Open source data is information that is free for the public to access. Some great sites for finding data include the U.S. Census Bureau and Google Public Data Explorer


    A successfully completed competition entry will have the following:

    • A completed Design Challenge via that includes at least one description and one image per step of the Design Process.
      • A completed registration and submission on the Competition Registration Platform
        • Final submission of 6 design artifacts (see below)
      1. Four (4) detail images that showcase different perspectives and spaces of your design from an eye-level perspective. Be sure to follow the model for naming each rendering:
        • Exterior: a rendering of the exterior of your house <LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_Exterior>
        • Interior View 1: a view showing the interior of your house <LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_Interior1>
        • Interior View 2: a view showing the interior of your house. <LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_Interior2>
        • Material Detail View 1: a detail image of an important material (interior or exterior) used in/on your house. <LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_Material>
      2. Written responses about your design decisions such as target audience and material choices.
        • Persuasive Essay: How does this design benefit your community? (150–250 words)
        • Short Answer: Tell us about the site and materials you have included in your design and why. (100–150 words)


      Pre-made models (found in the 3D Warehouse programs) can ONLY be used for scale figures, plants, and interior design. You may not copy template houses or full rooms. This is considered plagiarism and is grounds for disqualification.


      To be eligible for judging, applicants must:

      • Be at least 13 years of age by September 15, 2016
      • Participants must be between 13-18 years old, or enrolled in  high school.
      • Complete all of the Submission Requirements detailed above


      There is no cost to enter this competition. Mail-in submissions will not be accepted.

      By participating you understand and will comply with the the following guidelines established in all competition requirements.


      The children, relatives or household members of CAF employees are ineligible. Additionally, no child, sibling or immediate family member of a Jury member may participate. No member of the Jury shall assist a student or act in any other capacity whatsoever to advise or aid a competition entrant in the development of his or her submission. This competition is limited to students living in the United States. International applicants will not be eligible for winning prizes. 

      Applicants may be disqualified if they:

      • Are under the age of 13 after September 15, 2016.
      • Not enrolled in high school.
      • Fail to upload content (text and media) in to AND the competition platform.
      • Do not adhere to the design, writing and presentation requirements
      • Plagiarize or violate copyright rules by submitting non-original material—either student or professional
      • Submit content that is either not relevant to the design challenge or is deemed to be inappropriate or offensive.
      • Do not comply to the Terms of Use


      SEPTEMBER 15            Competition opens/registration

      DECEMBER 7                Project submission deadline extended to December 9!        

      DECEMBER 12-15         Jury Review

      DECEMBER 15              Top 10 Finalists Announced

      DECEMBER 16               First, Second and Third Place Winners announced


      FIRST PRIZE: Trip for 1 student winner and 1 parent/guardian to Chicago.

      • Trip includes: an economy-class roundtrip flight for 2 from within the 50 United States to Chicago; 2 nights at a Chicago hotel; a $50+ dinner certificate;
      • 2 tickets to a CAF river cruise
      • 2 tickets to a CAF walking tour
      • $50 CAF Shop certificate

      SECOND PRIZE: $250 CAF Shop certificate

      THIRD PRIZE: $100 CAF Shop certificate

      EDUCATORS: The primary educator of each of the top three winners will receive a copy of CAF’s The Architecture Handbook


      All eligible projects (see Project Requirements) will be reviewed by a jury of design field professionals selected by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Jurors have been selected based on their personal and professional success in design, involvement in local design issues, and commitment to supporting youth. Projects will be reviewed online, culminating in final recommendations for the winning projects.

      Ten finalists will be announced on December 15, 2016. The top three winners will be announced on December 20, 2016.

      If none of the design entries meet the requirements, the panel reserves the right not to award a winner. All decisions made by the panel are final.

      Judges will provide online feedback on all of the eligible student projects.

      Judging criteria

      • Originality in the final design
      • A completed National Competition design challenge showcasing creative use of the design process
      • A completed submission on the Competition Registration page
      • High quality images, sketches, drawings and models
      • Well-written, effective short answer essays that respond to the given prompts.



      If you have any questions about the competition, contact us!