Affordable Green Home

2016 National DiscoverDesign Competition: Design an affordable housing prototype

2016 National DiscoverDesign Competition

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.

Define the Problem

Design Challenge Brief

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, and 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.


Check out the Design Brief for more information about affordable housing, prototypes, and how to use open source data.

Define your problem with a short statement answering the following questions….

- who are you designing for?

- where are you designing?

Collect Info

Gather as much information as possible about your chosen location’s housing needs. You also want to learn as much as you can about the people who will use it.

Try This

  • Do a ‘site visit’ of your location. Document what you see there by taking notes, sketching, and taking photos and videos. Make note of things that are NOT there and what IS there that could be expanded.
  • Create a land use map to get a sense of location’s housing options and other community spaces around it.
  • Interview local residents about what the needs may be. Ask them what they like and dislike about the current housing options. What changes would they make if they had a choice? How do they think the community could get involved?
  • Make a list of the features that you really like about housing that you think all people should access to. This could be anything from a front porch, being close to a park, to a private bathroom.
  • Make a separate list of all the ways the current housing options are not so well designed.
  • Learn affordable housing and use open source data to determine what “affordable” is for your chosen location.
  • Calculate how much affordable housing is actually needed – How many people are below the median income? How many homes are available below the average cost? The difference is the need.
  • Research other affordable housing solutions around the world. What about their designs inspire you? How so?

Brainstorm Ideas

Upload sketches, pictures, quick hand models, and more that help us see your ideas and demonstrate your thinking.

Try This

  • Draw a floor plan or quick sketch of a detail you’re imagining. What might the interior need? Exterior? How are the different spaces connected or disconnected? Mapping all the needed spaces will help shape your overall design later on.
  • Use Google Maps to view and print out an aerial photo of your location. Take measurements of the overall dimensions of your location or lot. How much room do you have to build? Will you build up or out?
  • Post this aerial map and sketch here to show the relationship between your building and other spaces nearby. Describe the surrounding area and note existing structures such as the library, parking, main road, parks, businesses, etc. 
  • On a piece of tracing paper placed over the aerial photo of your school, sketch a diagram showing a large arc around the building to show the path of the sun throughout the day.  This drawing is called a site analysis diagram (Remember, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)


Think About

  • Will your new affordable housing solution replace your existing facilities or become an addition to a different part of a building? Will it be built in an empty lot or space?  Will it be underground or built on the roof?  You decide.
  • Spend some time looking at the aerial photo of your location.  What types of other buildings surround it?  Homes, businesses, parks, parking lots, or an empty field?  How will these other buildings impact the design?
  • What types of streets surround your housing? Are they busy or quiet?
  • Based on the site analysis diagram you've sketched, where is the sun located throughout the day? 
  • How can the indoor and outdoor areas of your new housing be positioned to take advantage of the sunlight for good lighting?

Develop Solutions

Try This

  • Draw a sketch or use software such as SketchUp, AutoCAD, or Revit to illustrate your ideas.  You can upload
  • Make a list of all the unique spaces and features you plan to have in your housing solution. 
  • Use cardboard to create a 3D study model of early ideas. Or, create a rough digital study model of your ideas. These models don't need to show detail, just the overall size and massing for your pavilion.
  • Be sure to check out and make comments on other student design projects! Ask them for feedback on your work.
  • Do not leave work for the last minute. Going through a detailed design process requires time to gather information, develop ideas, and make improvements. The jury can always tell what projects are researched, developed and well executed…

Final Design

Try This

  • Review your design and test it against your original success statement that you wrote for the Overview. Does it meet this criteria?
  • Upload at least four (4) detail images that showcase different perspectives and spaces of your design from an eye-level perspective. The jury will be looking for:
    • Exterior View: a rendering of the exterior of your house
    • Interior View 1: a view showing the interior of your house
    • Interior View 2: a view showing the interior of your house
    • Material Detail View 1: a detail image of an important material (interior or exterior) used in/on your house
  • Upload your written responses about your design decisions such as target audience and material choices.
    • How does this design benefit your community? (150–250 words)
    • Tell us about the site and materials you have included in your design and why. (100–150 words)
  • Comment on other projects in the competition to foster, encourage, and build an online design community of learners in DiscoverDesign.

Don't forget to complete your project and to submit your work on the 2016 Competition Submission page.