Social Housing
Querétaro, México

Social housing is again one of the most urgent issues of our time for our communities, for our governments and for architecture. Perhaps not since post-war Europe has the need for social housing been so urgent. The forces of global capital have further widened the gap between those able to afford a more permanent home and those who cannot. The resulting lack of economic diversity, reflected in the housing stock of our cities has worked against a larger, shared idea of a vibrant community and neighborhood. Although many have studied its effects and proposed solutions, it remains a problem that only grows more urgent. Addressing that problem will require the collaborative efforts of government, community leaders, financiers and architects. In order to endure, a new model must provide value to both its individual inhabitants and to the larger community to which it contributes. This value cannot only be measured in monetary terms, but rather it can also be measured in qualitative terms. We must understand the value of design to contribute to an improved quality of life, solving problems intelligently and creatively, both as a practical matter and an aesthetic matter. In essence, a social and economic problem must also be understood as an architectural problem.

Too often architecture is reduced to an exclusively aesthetic pursuit, at times literally masking over persistent problems that remain unexamined (and unaffected) by design. On the other hand, social housing is too often dealt with as a problem of efficiency and lifeless problem solving, devoid of the palpable qualities that only architecture can provide. A new approach is required, one that understands both the urgent, day-to-day needs presented by social housing coupled with an aspiration to architecture that can effectively change the quality of the lives of its inhabitants. Social housing is an opportunity, employing modest means and humble materials to provide an environment of quality and dignity for its inhabitants. It embraces a simplicity that speaks to the qualities of space, light and air coupled with intelligent problem solving. It enables the potential of the people who live there to form communities, providing humane spaces for the diversity of life that builds up over time, making room for an intense optimism.

The design for a modest house in the countryside north of Mexico City is a response to the need for extremely inexpensive, single-family dwellings that dignify the lives of their inhabitants. Commissioned by Infonavit, an agency of the federal government in Mexico, the brief asked us to explore how to make the most with the least. The house is currently under construction and will be used as a prototype for rural dwelling.

Project Credits:
Russell Thomsen, AJ Rosales, Hanh Nguen, Guannan Sun

About Russell Thomsen

A founding partner in the award winning Central Office of Architecture (COA, 1987-2008) and IDEA Office (2009-2014), Russell Thomsen formed RNThomsen Architecture in 2015. He has been a licensed architect since 1989. The office provides a full range of architectural services. In addition to directing the practice, Russell is also a senior design studio faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in downtown Los Angeles. The work of the office has been internationally recognized, exhibited and published. The office has received several awards including the Architectural League Prize and Emerging Voices, both from the Architectural League of New York, and the Best In American Architecture Award for the Saitama Residence.