99k House Competition

99k House Competition.  In a 1938 Architectural Forum article, Frank Lloyd Wright observed, "Notwithstanding all efforts to improve the product, the American small house is still a pressing, needy,

hungry, confused issue" He was developing his Usonian houses in response to the challenges

of affordability and material shortages following the Depression. Seventy years

later, the urgent need for innovative and affordable housing remains. The 2008 State of the

Nation's Housing Report noted that the numbers of severely burdened households are on

the rise, while housing assistance programs have decreased In this atmosphere, where so

many households are paying more than half of their income for housing, the Rice Design

Alliance (RDA) and American Institute of Architects (AIA) Houston challenged architects and

designers to imagine an affordable, sustainable house for a specific Houston site in an open

international competition. The 99K House Compet1t1on sought ideas and strategies for a

small house under 1,400 square feet that could be constructed for less than one hundred

thousand dollars using ecologically responsible building techniques and products.

Though affordable housing has been the focus of Community Development Corporations,

non-profit groups, and other service organizations, the American Dream of owning a house

remains elusive to most in low income groups In Houston, new houses with the most

affordable housing price tags are built in distant suburbs, while close-in neighborhoods languish

There is an obvious irony to this situation of sprawl -as gasoline and energy prices rise, the

resulting cost of commuting great distances results in an additional burden for many home

owners At the same time, older neighborhoods, which offer diversity as well as existing

infrastructure, schools, and community centers, are being depleted and abandoned

The City of Houston, through LARA (Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority) and Mayor

Bill White's Houston Hope initative, has developed incentives to discourage night from

established neighborhoods by making abandoned property available at a reasonable cost

to builders interested in providing quality affordable housing in these older areas Eligible homebuyers

can receive up to $30,000 in down payment assistance through the City's Housing Assistance

Program, allowing them to invest in their futures by building equity in their homes

and community As Mayor White noted at the 2007 opening of the first Houston Hope house,

"The thousands of delinquent properties in Houston rob families of a great opportunity to

live the dream of home ownership in some of Houston's historic neighborhoods Project

Houston Hope gives a new generation or

Houstonians a real opportunity. The many

vacant and available infill lots are seen as a

chance to both stabilize and energize these

areas in need of revitalization.

Early in the planning phase of the 99K House

Competition, RDA and AIA Houston decided

to make every effort to construct the wining

design With this in mind, a two-stage

format was developed in which finalists

were asked to prepare construction documents

for pricing by a third-party contractor

We approached the City of Houston to Join

with us by endorsing the competition and

donating a construction site With the encouragement

of Mayor White, LARA donated

a 50' x 100' lot at 4015 Jewel Street in the

historic Fifth Ward, behind Scott Elementary

and a block from Tufney Park and Community

Center The 99K House Competition

program incorporated LARA Houston Hope

guidelines, including the required three-bed·

room house with a selling price of $99,000 or

less Though an Energy Star rating and the

stipulation of one house per lot were included

 in the requirements, the 99K house organizers

encouraged a broader definition of sustainability

and suggested planning flexibility for

future applications of the design to different

lot sizes and locations throughout the Gulf

Coast region

The number of entries - we hoped for 99 and

got 184 - and the high quality of the designs

astounded us. Proposals were submitted by

local, national, and regional architects

and designers A distinguished national

jury chose five finalists for the second

Jury review that focused on construction

feasibility and a cost analysis of the designs

The winner, "CORE A Compact, Adaptable

House," a modern Houston home submitted by the Seattle team of

Hybrid/ORA, was admired by the jury as a

project that reflected flex1b1lity and respect

for the budget, while offering sustainability

to a variety of users over time This compact,

elegant design shows that an affordable

house can also be beautiful architecture

Though there is one winner, allot the designs

offer unique solutions Some are more

contextual, while others stand in contrast

to the existing neighborhood Some give

careful consideration to budget constraints,

while others are packed with ideas that

render them clearly over budget Some

use simple passive energy concepts, while

others explore more advanced notions of

sustainability Many find a middle ground,

using available materials in innovative

ways, economizing by employing efficient

planning techniques, and suggesting that

sustainability has both ecological and economic

inplications Though only one modern Houston home

is planned for construction with the process led by Intexure architects, true economy

will come from building multiples of one design,

and many of the proposed houses are

worthy candidates. Sixty six representative

entries, noted for their range of ideas by the

jury, are included 1n the 99K House competition exhibition held at the Architecture

Center Houston September-November 2008

This catalog documents these s1xty-s1x

projects, and a contact list 1s included for

the architects and designers whose ideas fill

these pages. 

In 1938 Wright env1s1oned a housing type

that would expand the possibilities of small,

Affordable dwellings As current houses

grow ever larger and use greater resources,

many architects continue to look for ways

to downsize and improve sustainability

We hope that the results of the 99K House

Competition serve not only as a book of

ideas but also as a reminder that revitalizing

an existing neighborhood through a well-de·

signed, affordable, sustainable house

is a  way to begin.


This house emphasizes the importance of design, demonstrating that a modern Houston home and good design can be appreciated and attainable for everyone. This affordable, sustainable house is constructed using conventional materials

and construction methods. Waste is minimized by designing to standard material

sizes. Construction components ore simplified to reduce the number of trades

needed to construct the project. Durable long-life materials not only reduce the

initial purchase price, but also minimize long-term maintenance and operational

costs. As a sustainable initiative, the house focuses on smart design and low tech

strategies rather than expensive technology. Methods employed include use of

natural light, window orientation, sun shading, ventilation, and operable windows.

A rain collection cistern is positioned to supplement landscape irrigation, while

permeable exterior surfaces, such as grovel, limit water runoff. The scale of the

house is in context with the neighborhood. The house opens to the neighborhood

with front and side porches, creating a welcoming gesture and functional spaces

for gathering and -interacting with others on the street. The integral-color fiber

cement siding references the wood siding of the Fifth Word, but provides greater

durobility and lower maintenance. The integration of metal siding both recalls Texas

vernacular architecture and represents new vitality in the urban landscape.

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