Design Morphology in Public Housing the Intersection of Design and Poicy

Open Access
O'brien, Kaitlin Marie
Graduate Program:
Master of Architecture
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 25, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Lisa Domenica Iulo, Thesis Advisor
  • Public Housing
  • Affordable Housing
  • Urban Design
  • Housing Policy
The latent success or failure of a public housing project may be the product of dozens of factors. With myriad socio-economic forces at play, the role of design is often marginalized. However, when looking back at the history of public housing it is clear that architecture and planning have had a strong influence on the outcomes of public housing. “To suggest, as some have, that ‘in reality, the architect faces only marginal aesthetic choices’ is to be lacking in the most fundamental knowledge of available choices” (Newman, 1975). Isolation and social stigmatization are significant factors that contribute to the failure of metropolitan housing projects. As public opinion towards residents and social programs shift, isolating design features of projects become physical manifestations of stigmatization, leaving socio-economic and cultural scars not only on the residents of projects, but of entire neighborhoods and cities. How does the spatial design of housing projects ameliorate or exacerbate the social stigma and physical isolation endemic to urban poverty in America? This paper analyzes the connections between public housing design standards, housing policy, and architectural ideologies that contributed to the predominant design typologies found in public housing. In order to determine how the design of past housing projects has contributed to successes or failures, case studies are analyzed by using past literature to create a framework of factors essential to successful urban and housing design. This framework consists of four main physical characteristics of successful urban design: urban density, security, legibility, and diversity. Applied to multiple case studies, this framework allows for comparison across different iterations of public housing design. The goal of this research is to explore correlations between public housing design and socio-cultural and economic outcomes, examining the intrinsic value in design and policy choices made for public housing.