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The ambitious mission of the Housing Northwest Arkansas Initiative "is to educate the community about construction, financing, and social justice," said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. Supported by a $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, it seeks to address the lack of affordable housing in the fast-growing region for residents and newcomers at all levels of income.

Components of the initiative, intended to explore the intersection of inclusive and attainable housing with sustainable urban development, are an advanced studio for senior-level UA students in the spring semester that emphasizes housing design research and design prototypes for the region, along with public symposiums in Bentonville and Fayetteville and a design competition.

The competition invites nationally and internationally recognized design professionals to submit designs for a mixed-use housing development, including live-work units, on a site in Bentonville. The five-member competition jury includes chair Anne Fougeron, of San Francisco-based Fougeron Architecture, as well as Fay Jones School faculty and other national housing experts. Competition results will be shown in a public exhibition.

"The combination of events--the design studio, the symposium and the competition--is designed to be of maximum public impact and value," said MacKeith.

The dean was introducing Fougeron at the Architecture and Design Network June Freeman lecture series, held last week at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. A tiny, peppery, high-energy speaker, Fougeron quickly engaged her audience by describing how she found her way to her life's work, which she describes as "humane modernism."

"I started my career in the social justice world," she said, adding that she grew up in France in the 1960s and participated in the student strikes in May 1968 where she "spent time in the streets" and "learned the importance of the arts and the social world." Along the way, she discovered that "what you make can help people's lives."

A continued dedication to social justice is shown by her firm's ongoing relationship with Planned Parenthood in San Francisco. "The work was political in nature," she said. "We made [Planned Parenthood] clinics safer and better places, more welcoming, dignified. We used a negative to make a positive."

Through use of color and natural light, her firm created environments that were "open, inviting, yet safe. We used bullet-resistant glass, video cameras, all invisible. There are informal meeting places, vertically integrated floors. Architecture reinforces the mission."

Fougeron defines her philosophy with three tenets:

• Architectural space is modulated by the quality and character of natural light.

• Innovative use of structure becomes the architectural ornament.

• Exploration into the visual and tactile nature of materials enhances how people engage a building.

Everybody wants light, she said. It's a concept that her firm employs in designing public housing. Recurring themes include social-service components in buildings and kitchens near windows instead of being tucked away in dark interior corners. "We want to make seniors feel like they're participating in the life of their community," she said. "Not isolating one community from another makes cities vibrant."

When repurposing existing buildings or creating new structures, her firm strives to work in sync with nature by tempering daylight, drawing in fresh air, naturally modulating heat and cold, engaging color and volume, and employing emerging technologies, products and sustainable materials.

Her presentation at AAC reviewed some of her firm's completed and in-progress work including single-family homes and multi-family mixed-use developments. The focus is on how the projects sit within the context of their sites, whether natural or urban, and how these forces affect the design--ideas she hopes will inform future housing efforts in northwest Arkansas, which has certain topographical similarities to the Bay Area.

Fougeron brought along slides of her work--her firm's re-imagining of a narrow 1901 row house in San Francisco is featured in the Feb. 12 issue of Dwell magazine--which while not for all tastes is impressive, softening the hard angles of modernism with pragmatic classicism. By inserting little bits of wit, color and comfort, humane modernism can make a really cool house a home sweet home.

Editorial on 02/18/2018

Print Headline: Architects study options for housing in NW Arkansas

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