Housing the Nation: Alexander Gorlin and Victoria Newhouse

Sure, Alexander Gorlin’s known for designing some of the Hampton’s most sublime modern homes.

And yes, Victoria Newhouse is an architectural historian who served as judge for the Pritzker Prize from 2006 to 2008.

But now these two have done something really impressive – and useful to us all.

They’ve co-authored and edited the definitive 21st-century book on affordable housing.

It’s from Rizzoli and it’s called “Housing the Nation: Social Equity, Architecture and the Future of Affordable Housing.”

“It’s a crisis that’s reached dramatic proportions – it used to be a problem in big cities, and now it’s in rural communities,” Newhouse says.

It’s also fact of life even in luxury resort areas. “It’s a result of gentrification and Covid and remote work,” she says. “People of means in remote areas increase homelessness there.”

Its effect on service workers – firefighters, EMS and police – is equally devastating, and a ticking time bomb for local lawmakers. “When we started the book we were hoping that it would reach policy makers and people in government,” adds Gorlin.

“Housing the Nation” is broken up into five parts with 17 essays by extremely well-respected architects, planners, lawyers, urban theorists, developers, economists and professors.

Among the rockstar essayists are urban theorist Richard Florida, architect Kenneth Frampton, real estate developer Jon McMillan, DPZ’s Andrés Duany and Fernando Pagés Ruiz and Rural Studio’s Jessica Holmes and Rusty Smith.

The first four sections are titled “The Big Picture,” “Racial Injustice and Housing,” “Points of View” and “In Search of Solutions.” Then there’s a portfolio of projects that shows how affordable housing can be not only functional, but beautiful and well designed.

Alas, affordable housing still suffers from the image of public housing projects like Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, built in 1954 and demolished in 1976, a total failure of epic proportions. “There’s this stigma from developers who don’t want to build it, like it’s beneath their status,” Gorlin says. “But it can be an important part of the city.”

Three cases in point are Gorlin’s own design for Nehemiah Spring Creek Housing in Brooklyn in 2011, along with Via Verde in South Bronx, designed in 2012 by Grimshaw + Dattner and Marcus Garvey Village in Harlem, designed last year by Body Lawson Associates.

These two authors have been colleagues, collaborators and friends for some time. During the pandemic, they were asked by AIA New York to pen an article on affordable housing. “It was very successful, and Victoria suggested a book,” Gorlin says.

The result is a volume that critic Paul Goldberger calls “a polemic, a backgrounder and a portfolio,” adding that it’s “both hopeful and realistic.”

That’s in part because “Housing the Nation” shows how the conundrum of affordable housing can be solved on the local level by people who can learn how to fund, design and build in a cost-effective way.

Each community is different and each has different needs. “It’s not a simple matter, and it changes over time,” Gorlin says. “We need an awareness of all these complexities so we can come up with different ideas.”

And these authors have no intention of going gently away over the issue.

“It’s a national crisis that’s not being dealt with,” Newhouse says.

“The more agitation this book causes, the better,” Gorlin adds.

So do us all a favor: Buy yourself a copy – and send an extra to your mayor.

For more, go here.