Questions on Denver Dry
Questions on Denver Dry
As usual your magazine is filled with valuable and well-presented information. But there was a sleeper in [the April] issue (
, p. 9) that the text does not address: interior bedrooms. It would appear from the plan that these occur in the “affordable” apartments; I presume the corner apartments are “market rate.” Interior bedrooms are illegal under most codes, with good historical justification. Have the developers come up with new information about human behavioral needs and, if so, what is it?
I have done a great deal of work in low-income housing; I have entered innumerable apartments in which the blinds were drawn day and night to create a suitable environment for the TV; and it has sometimes occurred to me that, given the high level of sensory deprivation to which tenants seem willing to put themselves, we should probably reconsider our assumptions about nearly every aspect of residential planning and design. But how was this actually done in the case of Denver Dry?
It would also be very useful if you would, at some point, take on the
issue of affordability from a more
political point of view. After all, affordability is not an attribute of housing; all housing is affordable if you have the money. And generally speaking, it would seem obvious that poor people, if you accept poverty, need better housing than rich people. I hope you’ll be able to follow up on these issues.
Mannie Lionni, architect
Burlington, VermontReading the article about the conversion of the Denver Dry Goods Building into housing and other uses, I was struck by the floor plan you published showing apartments with the majority of bedrooms without windows. I am curious how this could be. While it would seem from the article that the renovated building may be totally air-conditioned, still most codes with which I am familiar require that bedrooms and other “habitable” spaces have windows.
And quite apart from any legal requirements, how can it be desirable, from an environmental point of view, to provide windowless bedrooms?
G. Mackenzie Gordon, A.I.A.
Jonathan Rose Responds
Thanks for forwarding to me your readers’ thoughtful letters on the affordable housing component of Denver Dry. First of all, a few clarifications: although at least 80% of the units must be rented to low-income residents, there are no specific units designated as
affordable. Furthermore, the affordable leases must be spread amongst the unit types on a proportional basis—thus, if a two-bedroom unit becomes available, and if it were to be rented to a market-rate tenant, resulting in the project having less than 80% affordable leases, the apartment would be rented to a tenant from the low-income waiting list, no matter which two-bedroom apartment it is. The units are affordable because of the way they were financed, not because the construction was cheaper.
Low income is defined as 60% of the area’s median income. In Denver, this means $23,394 for a single person, $25,065 for a couple and $33,420 for a family of four. Thus, residents of low-income rental projects are usually working but not earning enough to pay market-rate rents. This is particularly true for downtown housing, where there is a strong market demand from executives, well-paid consultants, and empty-nesters who want to live near work, night life, and culture. The low-income downtown residents tend to be young people just starting a career, service workers, single working parents struggling to advance themselves, and older, sometimes divorced downtown workers.
Because the building was originally designed to be a department store rather than an apartment building, it has a very deep interior. To utilize the interior, we did create interior bedrooms, something one would not do if the floorplate of the building was designed for apartments from scratch. The bedrooms are mechanically ventilated by rooftop fans 24 hours a day and cooled with rooftop evaporative coolers instead of air conditioners. We discovered that many people actually prefer these bedrooms because they are dark and quiet and work really well for sleeping. (The rear bedrooms also have a high pane of glass to borrow light from the living room.) Typically, urban apartments are smaller, forcing work and other activities into the bedroom. Perhaps because these apartments have large floor areas and volumes, the bedrooms can serve more as “sanctuaries.”
We believe that one of the most important aspects of a low-income housing project is its location. The housing should be within close proximity (preferably walking distance) to continuing education, medical and social services, daycare, and jobs. When low-income housing is located in the cheapest places to build, the residents spend a great deal of time commuting, either by bus (with several transfers) or by car. This consumes a great deal of their time and income, and makes it hard for residents to be a part of their community. When jobs and services are in close proximity, the family can save the costs of car payments and the time it takes to get from place to place. This time and money can then be spent raising children, acquiring more education, and contributing to the community. Well-located projects have great environmental benefits as well, because they reduce the need for the automobile. That is why our firm only builds low-income housing in downtowns or on transit lines in mixed-use neighborhoods.
Jonathan F. P. Rose, President
Affordable Housing Development Corporation
Katonah, New York
(1998, May 1). Questions on Denver Dry. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/questions-denver-dry