To put it simply, public housing is just that: housing available to low-income individuals and families, subsidized by public funds. Though a great idea in theory, much of the United States’ public housing complexes and communities have turned into what many refer to as “slums,” due to the lack of attention that goes into the upkeep and renovation of the buildings.

However, with the right amount of care and attention, public housing can be a positive addition to state and city welfare, helping homeless people off the streets, furthering the development of a better sense of community. In this case, I will be discussing public housing in my home community of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the ideas I have for designing a complex to be incorporated into the city as casually as any other apartment complex would be.       


These are a couple examples of public housing available in Albuquerque, ranging from house-style residence to apartments. Neither option seems to be particularly visually appealing or ‘homey.’


New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the U.S., with the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 6.7% (around 138,000 of 2 million people statewide without jobs)—almost half a million of its residents near or below the national poverty line. Limited access to jobs with livable wages leaves many struggling to keep roofs over their heads while having enough money left over to purchase bare necessities for survival. In the city of Albuquerque alone, there are around 1,300 people—adults, teens, and children—without homes, who only have about ten readily accessible homeless shelters to turn to for temporary assistance.

For more information on the current state of poverty in New Mexico, click here.


To address this issue, I have put together a design for an affordable public housing community similar to those in big cities; that is, modern apartment complexes, with attention to incorporating natural light and efficiently spacious enclosures, ensuring as many residents as possible can live comfortably within the complex. By building a public housing complex, much needed assistance will be provided to those looking for low-cost homes, while also developing ideas for the state to take into consideration for future public housing in different locations. Though public housing does exist in the state, the waitlists are never-ending, so it wouldn’t hurt to construct another complex. 

I want to make a structure that can be transposed and built around the state—something affordable and accessible to everyone who needs it. This will help provide inexpensive living options, as well as modern innovation to the state, which is falling behind in urban development. The structure will combine traditional adobe-style buildings of the state and modern architectural developments commonly used in cities, along the lines of a taller building that still connect to New Mexico’s cultural roots of Pueblo Revival architecture.


Two examples of Pueblo Revival architecture. Both can be noted to have flat roofs, rectangular/boxy facades, and stuccoed exteriors.



A key part of the design process is becoming familiar with the location where the structure will be built. It’s important to know much space there is to work with and how to integrate the design into the community so that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. In this case, as can be seen in the map below, I’m working with a plot of land measuring about 545’ 6” by 417’ 9” next to some restaurants, stores, and residential areas. As you can see in the map below, the plot of land is to the left of Wyoming, above the Wells Fargo and McDonald’s. The location will provide easy access to food, toiletries, and other necessities for the residents of the complex, while remaining close to others who also live in the area. The public housing complex isn’t in the middle of a completely urban or residential area, but rather in a combination of both.

In addition, I conducted a few interviews with some people from school and in my neighborhood to see what they found to be the most important aspects of their homes. Whether with or without a home, most people expect the same things: bedroom(s), a kitchen, bathroom(s), closet(s), and a living space. Sometimes, living spaces can be incorporated into bedrooms, but families, for example, would need a common living space where everyone in the house can gather.

Though rooms are an important aspect of every home, the way they interact with natural light is important as well. A friend I interviewed told me, “I definitely prefer sunlight to light bulbs. It makes me feel like I’m not completely isolated from the outdoors – not to mention, it saves electricity.” Because people tend to like windows to look out of and allow light in, I want to be able to incorporate large windows into the complex, so that the residents feel comfortable in their homes, while also preserving energy.

What do you think would be the most important aspect of successful public housing?

Natural lighting
Spacious Rooms
Utilities (ex: laundry room, gym, park, etc.)
Please Specify:


After gathering information on different perspectives, I began my search for inspiration that included all or most of the elements people said they want in their homes. Below are just a few examples of world-renown public housing complexes.

 An award-winning public housing complex in Seoul, South Korea’s Gangnam district. Along with providing plenty of space for residents, the apartments incorporate community spaces such as parks, pathways, and other facilities.

Another public housing complex in Singapore with open spaces for people to gather and light to come in. The design of these public homes has been referred to as similar to luxury hotels and apartments.

This final photo is of public homes in Monterrey, Mexico. The design is more mechanical, focusing on simple functionality and mass production.

For more innovative public housing projects, click here


Brainstorming starts with sketches, which can be seen below: one a bubble diagram of a typical two bedroom apartment, one a rough sketch of my initial idea for the entire building. Based off the initial design, I decided I would convert the roofs into patio spaces for the apartments on their levels, so that they would be put to use as private outdoor spaces for gardening, relaxing, etc. In addition, the design provides more wall space to put windows, making it possible for some apartments to even have windows on all four sides.


Once I had a good idea of what the building would look like, I did research on the average apartment size in the U.S., so as to make sure the residents have a sufficient amount of living space. I also looked up different floorplans with dimensions so I could design the apartments so that there is enough space in the rooms as well.


For better visualizations on my design, I made a rough paper model of my initial sketch to see how the structure would work in 3D.



For the final product, I decided to make a massing model: a to-scale model of the exterior of the building. Each centimeter is equivalent to two feet, making the base square footage 8000 square feet. The building has a maximum of five floors, with each one measuring eight feet tall. The average apartment size (one with two bedrooms) is 800 square feet.


As can be seen in the photos above, I took my initial design, duplicated it, and put it together so that the taller components are framing the entire structure, with the two sides merging in the middle to a three-storey center. The center will serve as the entryway to the building, with a laundry room for the community to share, and stairs and elevators to reach the other floors. Below is a simple floorplan of one side of the building and its entryway.


In total, the building will have about forty apartments, which may seem very few, but as demonstrated in the image below, one building takes up only a little space on the lot provided. Including parking, a playground, walkways to the buildings, and a few areas of grass, there should be room for at least seven buildings, providing around 280 apartments.


The building will look innovative, like a huge stairway, similar to the Marriot Pyramid in a different area of the city, while keeping the adobe style, with a tan stucco exterior over wood lath. Since the state doesn’t experience much weather besides wind, the building should hold up pretty well, with occassional (after a few years) maintenance to keep the stucco intact.


Left: The Marriot Pyramid — Right: The model with a shaded figure of average human height for comparison to the size of the building 

And finally, to sum it all up, below are a few angles of the building as a SketchUp design. The photo on the left is a more detailed view of the top floor with the patio space, windows, and skylights, while the photo on the right encapsulates the building as a whole.


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Now that you know a little more about public housing, how do you think it can be implemented in your community without having the complexes/neighborhoods turn to ‘slums’ looked down upon as failed social service projects? Feel free to comment below your thoughts and opinions! Thanks for stopping by!

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