From the desk of Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director of Government & Public Affairs

Design For Dignity:  A Summation Of Our Next Steps

Thank you for joining us at our 5th annual Design For Dignity conference. This year we explored the nexus between the disparate impacts of our ongoing pandemic, the urgency of our housing crisis, and the systemic inequities of our zoning and land-use policies.

If you didn’t have a chance to join the discussion, here are the links to each of the three days of the conference:

Day One = Catharsis from Crisis to Transformation: Shifting Ground
Day Two = New Types of Hosing Solutions
Day Three = Homelessness in LA: Understand it Today, Change it Tomorrow

Seven Take-Aways:

1. As surmised in a presentation by Natasha Hicks, the current system to deliver housing isn’t broken. It’s working just as it was designed. However, that system is obviously flawed and creates disparities that gravely impact us all. Therefore, to adequately address our housing crisis, we need to dismantle the current system and replace it with a radically different system that nourishes us, strengthens our relationships with each other, and leverages the power of design to elevate our imagination — a system that delivers an inclusive praxis that liberates us all to each become much more aspirational.

2. As stated by Michael Lehrer, FAIA in his opening remarks, “Making ‘home’ is the primal act of architecture and of being an architect.” Los Angeles is a critical design laboratory to test the limits and possibilities of bureaucracy. We need to embrace the spirit of radical experimentation and make it safer to fail, and to practice a state of constant learning, so that we can continue to strive and to take risks in our pursuit to deliver equitable, resilient housing for all.

3. Homelessness is the most visible symptom of many other market and policy failures. To truly solve our housing challenge, we will need to also address all of the root-causes, which include a litany of public and mental health challenges, rampant financial speculation, economic malfeasance, systemic racism, and anemic political will.

4. To truly achieve housing justice, we must make housing a legal entitlement. That is, one’s access to safe and dignified housing must be seen as a civil right.

5. We need to an embrace an “all of the above” comprehensive (and potentially opposable) approach when it comes to expanding housing typologies, including pre-fabricated and modular assemblages, flexible interior/ exterior programmatic configurations, and the regulatory permission to pursue innovative lot configurations that will support the development of more affordable, workforce-supportive ‘missing middle’ homes.

6. We need to expand the concept of wellness design to entire neighborhoods and humanize the issues facing our communities. As we add new homes to existing neighborhoods, we need to ensure the voices of each unique community are more robustly integrated into the design and outreach process.

7. Homeless prevention should be elevated in its urgency. We’ll never solve this challenge if we do not also establish stronger policies and protocols to keep everyone housed.

Next Steps:

1. To assemble an ad-hoc working group to offer critical support and expertise to help advance California’s Project Homekey initiative. This will include working with LAHSA to support their COVID-19 Recovery Plan and its goal to rapidly house 15,000 of our most vulnerable neighbors.

2. To make AIA LA a repository and source of information and action, which will complement the recently launched Open Source Homeless Initiative.  OSHI will become an open source platform to share all resources, projects, and links to provide interdisciplinary interconnectivity to all (especially designers and architects) working to end homelessness.

3. To create an inventory of the top ten regulatory and code-related impediments that are spiking the costs and amount of time required to deliver housing.

4. To streamline and consolidate the various, counter-productive (and often conflicting) design guidelines from all of the funding sources in a project’s capital stack.

5. To establish in depth a proposal to provide more pathways to home ownership and generational wealth, especially in communities of color and in neighborhoods where we are intensifying our investment in transit.

6. To collaborate with Rochelle Mills and the Innovate Housing Opportunities (IHO) Institute on a program that strengthens our ability to facilitate healthier and more effective community engagement.

7. To strengthen our approach to wellness design with strategies that promote more education, communication, and community outreach with resources that bridge evidence and precedence with professional practice and accessible media platforms. And to connect this approach with the vital importance of the current City of Los Angeles Housing Element update process.

If you’d like to join these efforts, please contact Will Wright at and prioritize which of the above issues you’d like to volunteer to support.


Draft Summation and Notes from Michael Lehrer, FAIA

Presentation from Natasha Hicks

Affordable Housing Design Guidelines – a presentation from Brian Lane, AIA