Weisman hosts HOME House Project, showcases designs for affordable living

The traveling exhibit has brought the issue of affordable housing to the forefront.

Kevin McCahill

Paintings from Russiaís age of elegance were featured at the Weisman Art Museum a few weeks ago, but now, until April 30, the future of housing is at center stage.

The museum is hosting the HOME House Project, which that showcases the future of affordable homes using green and sustainable options, created by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.

The walls in the museum are covered with blueprints, layouts and 3-D designs created by an array of architecture firms and designers from around the country.

Each entry began with the framework used by Habitat for Humanity for their three- and four-bedroom homes.

The HOME exhibit has been traveling the country, and fit what the Weisman was looking for, Director of Education Colleen Sheehy said.

ìThe Weisman has a commitment to looking at design issues and especially how they impact society,î she said. ìSo this is perfect.î

The designs themselves show a progressive attitude toward affordable home construction, she said.

ìA lot of builders are thinking about the bottom line but not thinking about the environment,î she said. ìIt has the potential to move (forward) the discussion about affordable housing and sustainable design.î

Duluth architect Rachel Wagner attended the exhibit last week. She said that although the work looked good on paper, she didnít believe the homes could really be of use in the real world.

ìSome donít meet basic (building) code,î she said. ìIn terms of livability, (in some) there is a lack of privacy.î

She pointed to some designs that lacked utility rooms for water heaters and furnaces, which, she said, would be difficult to add later.

She also said the prices, some about $60,000 for construction, werenít realistic.

But Wagner liked some of the ideas to save money.

ìI really like the style,î she said. ìThere is good fusion of indoors and outdoors.î

Builder Bill Guse said most of the designs would work well in warm weather climates like in California, but not in Minnesota.

One layout used a steel frame that ran from the outside through the interior. Because steel is a conductor, the steel likely would carry cold into the home.

Some say the issue of affordable housing will continue to become more important.

According to Ward 2 Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon, who represents the University and surrounding area, affordable housing is an issue in Minneapolis.

ìThere could be lots of improvement,î he said of housing options.

He said it is an issue he plans to discuss further and believes the city could do more to offer more options.

Ann Forsyth, program director of the Metropolitan Design Center, said there is a definite need for more housing options in the Twin Cities.

ìIn the past few years housing prices in the Twin Cities have been increasing faster than incomes, so the affordability of housing is objectively getting worse,î she said.

Most of the houses from the exhibition were built as one-story structures, a trend that Forsyth said likely will continue.

ìHouses have been getting bigger over the past few decades, but they must eventually reach a limit as larger houses are expensive to maintain,î she said. ìHouses have also been built farther from the urban core. But again this is increasing costs of transportation, and so there will be a limit to this spread.î