Integrating the Underprivileged: Collectivity in Architecture

Who are the homeless? [user scenarios]

chronically homeless


The chronically homeless are who most associate with homelessness: the person lying on the park bench, holding out a cup for spare change, or sleeping in a doorway. In the US, this portion of the homeless population makes up 10-25% of homelessness. In Baltimore, 9% of the homeless are considered chronic. These individuals tend to remain homeless because of drug or alcohol addiction and the lack of available or willingness to receive help.

temporarily homeless


The majority of the homeless are individuals who have suddenly confronted unforeseen circumstances, such as:

- Household disintegrates from eviction or divorce

- Loss of a job or live-work arrangement

- Release from a residential institution (hospital or prison)

Without an address or a safe place to return to each night to store belongings, seeking and keeping new jobs is difficult even for the newly deemed homeless. However, these individuals usually have fewer addiction problems and with the simple supplement of housing, can begin a path to recover; enter the "HOUSING FIRST" concept.

travelers & "formerly" homeless


Individuals who have lived in the building for some time and are "graduating" the program can be considered formerly homeless. Moving through the facility, they may have started as a person "off the streets," progressing to shared dormitory living and eventually to small private apartments. As they prepare to move out of the facility into their own living arrangements, they begin to take on a mentoring role to those just admitted to the program. Also entering the facility, using both dorms and apartments, are temporary visitors to the city for summer work, short-term jobs, or friend and business visits.

3000-4000 people are homeless on any given night in Baltimore

Minimal Living: the 4 elements


Research and visits to multiple aid agencies in Baltimore revealed these essential characteristics of successful programs:




Housing is important for the safekeeping of belongings, a secure place to sleeping at night, and a permanent address for employment. Being a temporary living facility, inspiration is taken from the compact but welcoming quarters of a monk.




For some, finding a meal is as far as foresight goes; food becomes a central element for all users of the building, both residents and non-residents. The serving of food as an interactive activity promotes collectivity through residents serving residents and residents serving non-residents.


skills and mentorship


A successful facility provides some basic education such as computer skills and literacy. Formerly homeless and long-term residents as well as staff provide mentoring to newcomers.


greater belonging: architecture as a substitute to religion


Many facilities use religion as a tool for building individuals’ sense of greater belonging and purpose. However, the often regimented schedule of such facilities, including daily church services, religious-based classes, and other activities does not work for some. Architecture can be used to replace the religious collective with a universal experiential collectivity.




This project seeks to create this collectivity through integrating the homeless with other transient populations [temporary visitors] in a hostel-like setting, programmatically including dormitory and apartment living for both. These coexist in a system where all 3 user groups interact with the project: a chronically homeless individual becomes a dorm resident; they then move into increasingly private living situations (culminating in apartments) before leaving the facility. During their stay, interaction occurs with all users via various collective space.

an example of minimal living: a monastery room

a cardboard bed in Napoleon Alley

Thesis Statement


This transitional homeless center in Baltimore, Maryland for the homeless, hungry, and low-income transient population, addresses the issue of alleviating the housing shortage and reintegrating the underprivileged into society through the architectural devices of the interplay of two distinct entities [opposites/duality], the framing of views within the building, and the expression of architectural elements. The strategy is grounded in the idea that it is important for individuals to also feel part of a collective whole, and in the case of the homeless, that exposure to others re-entering society or to those “in” society encourages others to seek betterment, as described by Rae Bridgman in his study of transitional centers in Toronto, Canada.

Initial Architectural Devices

Philip Johnson: Wiley House

Richard Neutra: Casa Ebelin



The programmatic duality between the "homeless" housing and low-income transient housing, and the nature of being helped vs. helping creates an opportunity to express the two-sidedness architecturally. This includes the sharedness of user groups and the distinction between dorm and apartment housing.


framed views


In architecture, a framed view is typically of the surrounding landscape of a building, perhaps framing a view of a tree, the ocean, or the distant countryside. In this project, views, openings, and users within the building are framed to provide constant connection between program, varying users, and site. A particular view may be framed, or a resident viewing the city from their window may be framed or partially framed to non-residents and passersby.


aerial site study, Baltimore

Baltimore’s homeless problem is currently being tackled through the city’s 10-year program to end homelessness, Journey Home. There are roughly 80 shelters currently serving the city, ranging in services from emergency overnight shelters to transitional housing. The 2009 point-in-time census of the homeless shows that 59% of the sheltered population and 70% of the unsheltered population is male.


The project site (red) is located in the central Inner Harbor, filling the existing void (shown in blue) of shelters near downtown. The site is close to major transportation routes (blue) and the famous Lexington Market, 3 blocks north.

site concept diagram

site response


The two-sidedness of the site allows further application of duality; the site is framed by two public streets and an alley. West Redwood Street connects to the University of Maryland to the west and a lightrail stop to the east; South Eutaw Street connects to the famous Lexington Market. Napoleon Alley is a simple service alley that currently bears evidence of homelessness. The site is shown in red in the image above.

Precedents / Inspiration

David Baker + Partners: Drs. Julian & Raye Richardson Apts

Teeple Architects: 60 Richmond Center

Peter Zumthor: Therme Vals

Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum

The project takes some inspiration from two other low-income housing projects through from, program, and facade treatment. Also considered were projects with an experiential collectivity. In the Therme Vals and the Jewish Museum, sound is an important quality to the experience of the space.


line outside Viva House soup kitchen, Baltimore

entrance to courtyard

“No one wants to be seen waiting out there [ on the street ], at least here we give them some dignity while they wait...”

-Jon Miller, Helping Up Mission for men


One of the design’s main features and organizing elements is a public courtyard. One element of homelessness that often discourages individuals from taking advantage of services is the humility of being seen waiting in lines on the street. Here, the courtyard provides a comfortable space off the street with places to sit and cover for inclement weather. In the view above [the entrance to the courtyard the building], the elevation of the building’s "knuckle" is prominent. The knuckle contains important shared functions for building residents, and is the transitional area of the building from the public atrium to the private dorms. A counseling suite protrudes as a volume into the space of the courtyard, emphasizing a duality of inside-to-outside and also the notion of helping while being helped.

ground level plan

The ground floor plan reveals the basic organization of the building. The courtyard continues the herringbone brick pattern, which exists on W Redwood St, into the courtyard as an extension of the spatial columns (poched in orange). A central atrium serves as the main collective hub of the building, hosting dining, cooking, and food serving activities. The food serving area literally serves as the indoor/outdoor boundary of the building, providing food to both residents and chronic users from the streets. A small medical clinic, post office, and reception office also occupy the ground floor to serve all users of the project.

courtyard: note post office, medical clinic, and lockers within spatial columns

basement level plan

The majority of the building’s mechanical space is kept below grade. Mechanical shafts, seen in the ground level plan and other levels, lead to mechanical rooms in the basement. A service elevator (north side of facility) allows service to these functions as well as additional storage for the kitchen above.

The kitchen, located in the atrium, would have most of its supplies stored here; cold and frozen items would be stored on the ground level, and the kitchen preparation area would be "stocked" before each meal from both storage areas.

section a-a through atrium; note food serving area and overlooking walkway over kitchen; also grouping of counseling suite and classrooms above

section c-c through atrium; note double-height kitchen and acoustic treatment of dining space

In section, the spatial relationship of the kitchen, atrium, and dining area is apparent. The openness of the kitchen allows residents passing by or using the lounge on the 2nd level to see into the space; the full-height atrium serves as circulation space and also capture the sound and smells of the collective nature of making and eating food; the ceiling of the dining area reflects much of the dining noise and conversation into the atrium, where mostly hard materials would create an ambient collective acoustic. Also seen in section are the shared kitchen and balcony spaces of the apartment wing and the public roof terrace.

view into atrium from corridor

2nd level plan

From the 2nd level walkway, residents have a view across the atrium to the apartment wing and dining area. In this view, the kitchen is located below the viewer; also seen is the short, staggered wall dividing the kitchen from the atrium. A large furniture feature occupies the central area of the atrium, serving as seating and a condiments station for meal times. Lighting is integrated above the feature.

The walkway joining the apartment wing to the rest of the building is repeated on all floors; note the framed view of an apartment resident across the atrium.


The 2nd level serves as a transitional floor from the all-public ground floor to the more private levels containing dorms above; also starting on the 2nd level are the "knuckle" functions, in this case a shared laundry room for all residents.

The apartment wing occupies the southern end of the building, have two 2-bedroom apartments for 8 residents per floor. These apartments share a kitchen and outdoor balcony, allowing independence from the atrium dining system for their own meals. These residents would, however, maintain the collective nature of the facility by working shifts in the kitchen and providing mentoring to newcomers.

view from corner of W Redwood and S Eutaw

view from courtyard towards atrium

From the public streets, the egress walkways on the upper levels essentially frame the opening into the courtyard. Along Eutaw Street, the overhang of the dorm wing provides some cover for the bus stop. The apartment wing is clearly visible to the left down W Redwood Street. Also note the difference in articulation between the dorm and apartment wings.


Entering the courtyard further, the atrium draws the eye to the height of the space. The counseling suite volume is again seen protruding into the space, hovering over the recessed passageway to Napoleon Alley. Looking closely at the top of the atrium, daylighting reflectors can be seen. Also note the repeated walkways connecting to the apartment wing.

3rd level plan

The 3rd level introduces the dorm housing typology. The dorm rooms are extremely compact, reinforcing the dependent and transient nature of newer residents. The spatial columns hold the beds much like the bench seating on the ground level.

The knuckle portion of the 3rd level contains a room management office for admittance to dorm rooms, and a small security desk exist on all dorm levels. A computer lab is provided for residents for their own use but also as an educational tool.

An egress walkway connects the dorm wing to the apartment wing.

diagram of dorm-column relationship

diagram of apartment-column relationship

architectural elements: spatial columns


The columns supporting the dorm and apartment wings are treated as spatial elements for the storage of belongings for residents and transient users "from the streets." The idea of duality is extended further into their treatment: apartments are essential inserted into the structure, while the dorms are stacked on top of a pedestal. Also note the individual operable windows of the apartment wing and the singled shared windows in the dorm wing.


Residents of both unit types will be acutely aware of the limited space of their living arrangements, while users from the streets, through continued uses of the column lockers, will become aware of the role of these columns in the structure; they too are participating in the sharing of the building.

detail section e

This facade study is a portion of the apartment wing of the facility and is typical of much of the design. The roof of the apartment wing serves as an outdoor terrace open to use by all residents and is sunshaded by solar panels for electricity generation.


channel glass


Channel glass is used as the main facade element in conjunction with the large spatial columns, creating a duality of lightness and solidity. The channel glass allows some privacy for residents, while at the same time putting them on display to passersby. Individual openings allow residents views out to the street, while portions of the windows remain covered by the channel glass, rendering residents as silhouettes.

In the apartment wing, each bed has its own operable window and view to the street, symbolizing the resident’s increasing independence. In the dorm wings, the entire bunk bed shares a single operable window hidden behind channel glass, symbolizing the new or temporary resident’s dependence.


wall structure


Total thickness: 1’-0"

2-3/8" frosted channel glass

2-3/8" air space

2" rigid insulation

1/2" plywood

2x4 metal stud wall/batt insulation

2 layers 5/8" GWB


floor structure


Total depth: 3’-0"

1/2" tile or carpet

1" concrete topping

1/2" sound insulation

10" cast-in-place concrete slab

suspended GWB ceiling




The channel glass facade creates an effect much like Steven Holl’s Swiss Embassy project in Washington DC. Diffuse lighting is allowed to enter during the day, while at night the silhouette of residents is shown to the exterior, framed by the dark solidity of the concrete spatial columns.

In the dorm elevation, the bunk beds can be seen faintly through the channel glass facade.

Steven Holl: Swiss Embassy

concept sketch

east elevation; note effect of channel glass

view from across W Redwood St; note wind turbines on roof

4th, 5th, & 6th level plan

The 4th through 6th floors are identical (except for the obviously changing location of the atrium inclosure, which is angled in section). This portion of the knuckle contains the counseling suite, adjacent to classrooms. The offices consist of a general room for initial interaction and 2 private rooms for one-on-one mentoring, which would occur between residents and staff or more "experienced" residents who are on their way out of the facility’s system. The tables in these rooms protrude through the facade, furthering the duality concept and the connection to the outside, visually and sensually. Frosted glass visually separates the rooms from each other.

view southeast towards Bromo-Seltzer tower

view down dorm corridor towards the Bromo-Seltzer tower

The angled dorm wing, visible in plan, is the largest "framed view" of the project, making reference to the city-scale by aiming the dorm corridors at Baltimore’s iconic Bromo- Seltzer tower. The view is framed by the protruding translucent wall (seen in plan) and the corner of the apartment building across West Redwood Street.

All users of the building walking down these corridors are instantly reminded of their orientation in the city by this view and their collective notion is expanded to include the city scale.

section d-d

This section reveals several important design features. On the ground floor, the passageway from the courtyard to Napoleon Alley is revealed. Above this is the 2nd level lounge, which is overlooked by the 3rd level’s entrance to the computer labs and room management office. The protruding volume of the counseling suite is again clearly seen as well as the design of the counseling tables. Finally on the 7th level is the exercise room and lounge.


Across the courtyard above the apartments is the roof terrace, which features seating, plantings, and photovoltaic arrays that double-function as sun shades.

view inside a private mentoring room in the counseling suite

7th level & roof plan

The 7th level completes the building with additional public space. The knuckle portion becomes a small exercise room and lounge, while the apartment wing hosts a public roof terrace. Seating and plantings protect roof occupants from interfering with the vertical wind turbines.



The atrium is designed to allow a folding/sliding fire door to enclose the atrium walkway. This door is held in the narrow cavity adjacent to the classrooms and lounge, and extends to the apartment wing entrance. On the ground level, a roll-down door encloses the small remaining gap to the dining space.

aerial view of roof terrace

detail section of atrium daylight reflectors

The photovoltaic arrays, which serve as sunshades for roof occupants, connect directly to the extended spatial columns, furthering their supportive role. Across the courtyard is a small balcony atop the counseling suite volume.


The light reflectors mentioned earlier reflect daylight into the atrium. The detail section below illustrates the reflectors’ performance with summer (red), equinox (green), and winter (blue) sun angles. In the summer, only a small amount of direct sunlight reaches the enclosing glazing and the majority is reflected away, reducing internal heat gain.

section b-b; note framed views of apartment corridor and roof terrace above; also note 2nd level outdoor terrace below the dorm wing

north elevation

The north elevation, though facing onto an alley, has several important design features. The center of the facade emphasizes the passageway into the courtyard with glass above and a concrete "frame" around the opening. The openings in the channel glass facade imitate the transition from public to private, from the atrium on the right to the dorms on the left. The circulation cores are left as visually grounding elements, again as concrete. Also shown is the loading area for kitchen, medical, and other facility supplies.

view from atrium towards kitchen; note 2nd level walkway

view into dining area; note angled acoustic ceiling reflectors

view from atrium towards entrance and courtyard; note food serving area

view into atrium from apartment corridor

This view into the atrium, from the apartment wing, shows the educational portion of the building. The computer lab is seen directly over the kitchen and the floors above receive slightly different treatment as classrooms. One can also see operable windows behind the channel glass at the classroom levels.

1/32"=1'-0" site model; conceptual mass near center of model

Seen in full context, the building’s role in its immediate context is seen. The building fills an existing void [parking lot] and mitigates the jump in scale from the University of Maryland’s park, to rowhomes and 6-7 story luxury apartment buildings, to the very tall buildings across Eutaw Street. Also seen prominently on the right of the model is the Bromo- Seltzer tower. A conceptual mass model occupies the site in this 1/32" = 1’-0" model.

1/8"=1'-0 sectional model

1/8"=1'-0 sectional model

1/8"=1'-0 sectional model

This 1/8" = 1’-0" sectional model reveals many features of the design. The upper floors of the apartments, dorms, and part of the roof terrace are "removed" to reveal both the plan and section in both typology wings.

1/8"=1'-0 sectional model

1/8"=1'-0 sectional model



To conclude the discussion of this project, it is perhaps relevant to recall the intention: to integrate the underprivileged back into society. While homelessness cannot be solved solely through architecture, design has a tremendous role in shaping an individual’s awareness and sense of space, place, and relationship to the world.


The features of this project, from its overall form, to the scale of spaces, the arrangement of these spaces, and the careful selection of materials to reinforce concepts, all aim to design a facility that promotes collectivity in architecture.


Through an individual’s repeated interaction with the building and other users, this architecture can build the awareness and comfort that would otherwise be "taught" at other facilities. By the time a resident has lived through the system of dorms, helping at meal times, mentoring others, and has lived through all of this project’s typologies, they will have gained the needed sense of collectivity and will be ready to re-enter the stable working society.

Further Development: Comments from the Kossmann Jury


Critiques of this project have cited it as wonderfully developed; however, perhaps where it just falls short is true integration. One juror suggested a minor rearrangement of program, so that an individual experiences the project from a truly private-collective duality. A resident could, for instance, start in a large dorm on the top level, and gradually move down a floor level, entering a slightly more private living arrangement each time, until the ground floor was finally reached and was essentially entirely public--not only to the user groups indentified by this project--but by all people of the area.


Given further time to develop the project, I would have liked to spend more time designing the interiors of the project, with more careful and specific selection of materials, and extending this to color as a means of inducing certain moods for residents.


At this stage in design, it would also be extremely interesting to obtain the opinions of its suitability to the problems of homelessness from individuals working in this service in Baltimore.

Bibliography & Sources


Books and Printed Resources:


Davis, Sam. Designing for the Homeless: Architecture that Works. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

Blum, Jeffrey D., and Judith E. Smith.


Nothing Left to Lose: Studies of Street People. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Sanctuary, 1972. Print.

Hombs, Mary Ellen.


Modern Homelessness: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011. Print.

Bridgman, Rae.


StreetCities: Rehousing the Homeless. Orchard Park, New York: Broadview Press, 2006. Print.

Neuwirth, Robert.


Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. New York, New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Miles, Malcolm.


Urban Utopias: The Built and Social Architectures of Alternative Settlements. New York, New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Ellen, Ingrid Gould, and Brendan O’Flaherty.


How to House the Homeless. New York, New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 2010. Print.

Princeton Architectural Press.


Re: American Dream: Six Urban Housing Prototypes for Los Angeles. Los Angeles, California: Princeton Architectural Press, 1995. Print.

Groth, Paul.


Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1994. Print.

"60 Richmond Street East Housing Co-Operative [Toronto, Ontario]."


Canadian Architect. December 2007: 30-32. Print.

"Teeple Architects Design New Housing Co-Operative."


Canadian Architect. August 2007: 11. Print.


Web Sources:


The Journey Home: Baltimore’s 10-year Plan to End Homelessness. United Way of Central Maryland, 2011. Web. 8 September 2011.


Jobs Housing Recover (JHR) Baltimore.


Sun Angle. Sustainable by Design, 2009.


BWI Climate Data. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011. bwi/bwitemps.txt


Polar Sun Path Chart Program. University of Oregon Solar Radiation Monitoring Lab, 2008. http://solardat.uoregon. edu/PolarSunChartProgram.html


Windfinder - Wind & weather statistic Baltimore Inner Harbor. GmbH & Co. KG, 2012. http://www.


Teeple Architects, 60 Richmond East Housing Development. Teeple Architects, 2010. portfolio#project=311/. 14 January 2012.


Recognizing Excellence in Urban Design. Toronto Community Housing, 2012. send/7669


Web Image Sources:


Riley, Molly. A homeless man snoozes on a bench in a park in Washington October 21, 2010. 17 June, 2011. Reuters, New York.


Person sleeping at church:


Neutra’s Casa Ebelin:


Philip Johnson’s Wiley House:


Great Hall of the British Museum:


Monastery Room:


Prison Cell: WeblogFiles/news/1586.jail-cell-_2D00_-still-burning.jpg


McCullagh, Declan. Baltimore Downtown Aerial Photo.


Dowd, Jacqueline. Brendan Walsh estimates that more than 1 million people have shared meals at the Viva House soup kitchen. 31 January 2011. The 13th Jurur, Orlando.!/image/1844277649. jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_650/1844277649.jpg


Posh-cafe2. 15 December 2010. CoolBoom.


NBK Terracotta Facade Panels Hunder Douglas Contract. 1 September 2009.





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