Story at a glance:
- Community architecture projects like these in San Francisco, Oslo, Vancouver, and more invite people to actively participate in the spaces they live, work, and shop in.
- An affordable housing complex for disabled veterans in Los Angeles uses natural light and airflow to maximize healing for the many formerly homeless residents.
- The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas is a cheese factory turned art museum that retains 80% of its original structure from 1947.
In Oslo, Norway, you’ll find a museum without walls called Losæter. In a lush field adjacent to tall city buildings, kids can play in the dirt while parents plant vegetables and others bake bread. Losæter is just one of many creative examples of community architecture all over the world.
The best community architecture draws people in, giving them a real sense of ownership in their communities and the buildings they work, play, and live in.
These are just some of our favorite community architecture projects that employ a variety of design techniques—from floor-to-ceiling windows and colorful highlights—elevating environmental and personal connection.
1. Family House, San Francisco
With 100% natural daylight in all public spaces, The Family House in San Francisco offers families of severely sick children a temporary escape from the typically cold hospital environment.
Up to 80 low-income families seeking treatment at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital can have access to temporary, free housing at the 92,000-square-foot project.
With the key concept of wellness and sustainability in mind, designers prioritized communal gathering spaces, a healthy filtered air system, and natural light.
“Whether there is story time in the lobby, art in the conference room, or a children’s sack race in the courtyard, the architecture supports and provides new opportunities for programs,” Gregg Novicoff, associate principal for Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, said in a previous interview with gb&d. The building was broken down into “neighborhoods” to create smaller groups, each “neighborhood” having 10 guest rooms with shared facilities that encourage families to get to know one another as they go through difficult times.
Losæter is a former container port turned public space in Oslo, Norway. Losæter was established in 2011 as an art project and has grown into a park with an abundance of various vegetables, living soil, compost, and most notably, the Bakehouse.
The Bakehouse’s boat-like design is no coincidence, as it calls back to the area’s history. The design alludes to Norwegian rescue boats that used to rescue people along the coast.
“This place makes it possible for a lot of people to be creative,” Anne Beate Hovind Losæter’s project manager said in a previous interview with gb&d.
Beyond the physical act of bread-making and farming, Hovind also emphasizes the cultural impact of Losæter. “We’re also building a cultural institution—without walls—for the more immaterial, tacit kind of knowledge about farming and baking.”
In Canada’s eighth-largest city, it can be difficult to find an affordable housing project—let alone a colorful and engaging one.
In 2018 Acton Ostry Architects helped make affordable housing in Vancouver a little bit more animated and sustainable with the LEED Gold–certified, 14-story Duke rental residential project.
The project is in the busy Mount Pleasant neighborhood and has 201 rental units with a small ground floor retail component, all compactly contained in an open-air atrium court building typology that’s new to Vancouver.
The characteristic open-air atrium was designed for circulation and to enhance a sense of community, and the multi-colored entrance doors breathe life into the atrium space against a backdrop of brilliant white surfaces.
“High-density rental housing serves a significant population who wants to live in the city but who either cannot afford or choose not to own a home,” Mark Ostry, principal of Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects, said to gb&d.
The Duke encourages limited vehicle use with its convenient location near transit, along with amenities like bicycle maintenance space and a car share program. Its building materials and rooftop green space also enhance energy performance and water efficiency.
Fentress Architects’ LEED Platinum Green Square Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina is a striking example of how architecture can bring together science, environmentalism, and the community.
The complex augmented the already-existing Museum of Natural Sciences with a new Nature Research Center and a headquarters for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Fentress Architects also added public plazas and landscaped open spaces.
“Sustainable design requires more than a check-box approach in ensuring the design meets necessary benchmarks,” Curtis Fentress, founder and principal in charge of design at Fentress Architects, said in a previous gb&d article. “To create inherently sustainable designs that encourage people to think more deeply about the environment, architects must form a bond between individuals, the community, and the building.”
With this in mind, Fentress Architects felt it was important to create a public space where the community could gather. A key feature among the plazas and open spaces is the “Daily Planet,” a four-story spherical auditorium that breaks free of the building and has become a popular meeting place.
To significantly reduce energy consumption, multiple daylighting strategies are implemented throughout the complex. Some of these strategies include Low-E glass, light shelves, and light tubes.
In the military, “got your six” means “I’ve got your back.” That supportive philosophy informs The Six, a 52-unit affordable housing complex for disabled veterans in LA, designed by Brooks + Scarpa.
The Six was designed to provide the maximal comfort and healing to residents, many of whom have experienced homelessness.
The building includes both private studios and one-bedroom apartments, along with a communal living room, community gathering spaces, and a rooftop garden. These communal and outdoor spaces are meant to provide a sense of connection among residents.
By maximizing natural light and airflow, among other design decisions including structural orientation, The Six is 50% more energy efficient than a conventionally designed building.
With added density in New York City following the introduction of the High Line in 2009, there came a need for more high-quality open spaces. Solar Carve (40 Ave), a 12-story commercial/office building, was Studio Gang’s first ground-up building in New York.
Located at the edge of Manhattan between the High Line park and the Hudson River, Solar Carve is sculpted by the angles of the sun through its striking gem-like appearance.
Due to NYC zoning regulations designed to protect fresh air and light on the street, the studio design team had to think creatively when determining how to best use sunlight. The team employed solar carving—a body of research on how to shape architecture in response to solar access to have a positive impact on its environment.
The building is sculpted at the angle of the sun in order to preserve solar exposure on the adjacent High Line Park, and it boasts unusually high ceilings and floor-to ceiling glazing. “We articulated the carved areas of the building with a faceted glass facade that rationalizes the complex geometry of the solar carve and also lends the building a striking gem-like appearance,” Weston Walker, partner and design principal at Studio Gang, said to gb&d.
“We recognize the prominence of the site along the park, and that people come here to look at buildings. With so many eyes on this project we knew it was an opportunity to demonstrate a new kind of relationship between architecture and open space,” Walker told gb&d.
The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas, was once a cheese factory. Before that it served as a hunting group for the indigenous Osage nation. Now The Momentary—by Wheeler Kearns Architects—is an adaptive reuse art museum with a relaxed atmosphere not found in many museums.
Nearly 80% of the original structure, built in 1947, was preserved by the time The Momentary was completed in February 2020. Additions to the structure focused on creating accessible space, adding insulation to the roof, and updating to more energy-efficient heating and cooling.
“Instead of trying to smooth over those layers of history, we tried to look at each space in terms of what the other layers would support—in terms of cultural programming that was going in there,” Calli Verkamp, Wheeler Kearns’ lead architect, said in a previous interview with gb&d.
Often museums are regarded as formal spaces but The Momentary is different; outdoor and indoor spaces flow into one another and the glass allows direct sunlight and natural engagement. “We wanted The Momentary to be a hub where anyone felt like they could wander in and have a new interaction with contemporary art and the community—to feel like a neighborhood place rather than a museum,” Verkamp said.
The Toronto Springdale Library’s eco-friendly and eye-catching design reflects a new age in public spaces. Rather than holding shelves full of dusty books, libraries are being reimagined as friendly gathering spaces meant for the 21st century.
Designed by RDH Architects, the library is targeting LEED Gold through its green roof, geothermal heating and cooling, and greywater systems. On top of that, the library has daylight harvesting systems and electric car charging stations. The team also tried to specify all locally available materials, from doors, lighting, and furniture to concrete and steel work.
The triangular building sits on a flat suburban plot of land adjacent to a naturally occurring ravine, which inspired the building’s fluid design and surrounding green spaces.
The library also invites people in with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. “It’s an approach of heightline, view, and perception that the public can see what’s happening inside the building, and it sort of draws them in,” Tyler Sharp, principal and design director at RDHA, previously shared with gb&d.
Surrounded by the brownfields of an industrial area in Brno, a former storage facility turned into affordable housing—DADA Distrikt stands out with its gold finish and rooftop garden.
The architecture firm KOGAA built the four-story affordable housing unit with the goal of emphasizing the already-existing industrial character of the space. To both aesthetically and sustainably advance the industrial building, the firm created a rooftop garden.
“In response to the issue with floods in the country and the building’s sensible closeness to the riverside, we designed a green roof as a tool for water management,” KOGAA cofounder Alexandra Georgescu previously said to gb&d. “The roof becomes a filter for the rainwater, slowing down the flow and therefore making the building a responsible player at the urban level of the area. A greywater system is also used for the building’s washrooms and irrigation.
Wheeler Kearns Architects renovated a former manufacturing facility in Bucktown into a headquarters and shelter for The Night Ministry—a Chicago-based organization that works to provide refuge for community members facing poverty or homelessness.
The Night Ministry’s headquarters offers an overnight shelter called “The Crib,” which includes a serving kitchen and dining space, administrative offices, meeting rooms, and multi-purpose programming space for social services, job assistance, and social activities.
The Crib repurposes the heavy timber masonry of the four-story building to sequester the carbon and embodied energy it holds. The floors and windows were repurposed to reduce waste as well.
The building tends to overall wellness and openness through an abundance of natural light and colorful walls and furniture. Throughout the building, 95% of public spaces have connection to natural light.
Although the thought of being back in an office is still a distant dream during the pandemic, Olson Kundig’s 9th and Thomas in Seattle reflects what workspaces have the potential to be—a gathering spot that goes beyond the classic cubicle.
9th and Thomas is a mixed-use building with retail and office spaces located in South Lake Union—once an industrial hub, now turned technology hub. “This area of Seattle, South Lake Union, has seen a lot of change in recent years as industry moves out and technology moves in,” Tom Kundig, principal and owner of Olson Kundig, said to gb&d. “It was important to us that the building ultimately contribute to the culture of the neighborhood.”
The building has operable windows and movable shutters to offer natural ventilation, and the green roof cuts down on the heat island effect, while also inviting people to gather both inside and out.