If you had to pick one, would you say that it’s more important for new housing to be affordable or to be beautiful? Many of you are probably thinking that it should be both. And while it is true that good and thoughtful design doesn’t always need to be more expensive, nice things do often cost money. And sometimes, doing as little as humanly possible costs even more money.
Let’s consider two development scenarios. In scenario A, the developer has well-oiled machine that delivers relatively affordable, but identical rental housing all across the country. The buildings are functional and there’s virtually no vacancy, but the architecture is undoubtedly bland and it certainly doesn’t respond to its local context. Standardization and efficiency trumps all, including aesthetics.
In scenario B, the developer is similarly building new rental housing, but she instead invests heavily in custom designs. Each building is unique. And each building goes through a “design review panel”, after which extensive changes are made in order to ensure that the design is truly beautiful and that it responds to its local context. As a result, there is a real price premium to these homes.
These are perhaps extreme examples. Usually, the goal is some sort of balance between affordability and beauty. But I do think it speaks to some of the tensions that our industry faces. So if you had to choose one, which one would it be? What kind of new homes do our cities really need more of? And if your answer is scenario B, does it change after a certain premium?