The first time I visited a Skid Row Housing Trust supportive housing site I was struck by what a beautiful place it was. The lobby was filled with light from large windows, the exposed brick was perfectly characteristic of the downtown neighborhood where it was located, the colors were warm and non-institutional, everything was beautifully maintained.
When I came to work for Skid Row Housing Trust I learned that one of the organization’s core values is a commitment to creating beautiful, high-quality homes for the men and women it served. It may seem like an oxymoron – do beauty and Skid Row really belong in the same sentence? But how else can we ask the men and women we serve to make radical changes in their lives?
At the Trust we use design to accomplish multiple goals. At its core, design must provide the comfort, function and security our residents need to build a home and a refuge from the previous chaos of their lives. But on another level the design must balance the need for refuge with the need to belong to a community. We pay painstaking attention to the smallest details to ensure that we are maximizing the opportunity for our residents to interact with each other as they go through their everyday routines.
Our homes must also provide for a connection between our residents’ lives and the city they are a part of. Our residents have often spent much of their lives hidden from the city they live in. Sometimes this isolation takes the form of physically hiding from view in alleys, under freeways, or in river beds. At other times this isolation occurs when people in close proximity simply avert their eyes from the homeless man or woman in front of them. We, at the Trust, feel strongly that our developments must break this isolation by creating a dialog between our residents, their homes, and the communities around them.
Ourbuildings purposefully create conversations with the streets (and, in the case of the New Carver, with the freeways) around them. At the street level we embrace materials like glass and use design to ensure that the activity of the street and interior of the building are not isolated from each other. We spend time thinking about the sightlines of the building to consider how our residents will be able to view the incredible skyline of downtownLos Angelesaround them and incorporate those sightlines into the landscapes of their lives.
Finally, design should engage and revitalize the city around it. Any new or redesigned building in a community should lift up the neighborhood. In this way, we build a stronger community for our residents to live in and communicate to neighbors that this new addition to their community is something to be proud of. We are creating a stronger urban fabric that benefits all.
Molly Rysman is the Director of External Affairs at Skid Row Housing Trust
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