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Low-Income Housing With Emphasis on Design

In Boston, while the jury did evaluate, admire and reward aesthetic achievement, it also took into account other attributes. Among those were degrees of difficulty associated with the site and context, program complexity, resource and budgetary constraints, sustainability and realization of community benefits.

Jurors were especially impressed by submissions that skillfully interwove new construction with recycled, nonresidential buildings that had become obsolete.

We liked how some architects created modest, inexpensive dwellings that nevertheless were pleasant, light-filled, functional places to live. We saw imaginative reinterpretations of vernacular architecture and great examples of beautifully composed modernist architecture. And we appreciated the aesthetically sophisticated design of large, high-density inner-city buildings.

Whatever you call it -- socially responsible housing, affordable housing, workforce housing, housing for special populations -- such development projects rarely get widespread public recognition or win national architectural awards.

Only occasionally are such projects featured in design journals, which usually prefer to show the trendiest, most idiosyncratic and, above all, most photogenic edifices. Low-income housing is a bit of a stepchild in architectural practice, even though designing really good housing can be more challenging than designing a visually striking library, museum or skyscraper.

By launching the Clancy award program nationally rather than just locally, the Boston Society of Architects not only is inaugurating a new award program, but also is telling the public as well as professionals that "socially responsible" housing can be designed as artfully as any other buildings.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland.

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