Multidisciplinary team of KU graduate students chosen as finalist in HUD competition


"Professor and three students sit at table in brightly lit studio space."

The need for affordable housing has never been greater. Already a growing problem in many U.S. cities for over a decade, the price spikes and supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have brought the housing crisis to metropolitan and rural areas across the country.

Finding solutions to a challenge as complicated and urgent as affordable housing takes an approach that is at once innovative and practical. In fall of 2021, a multidisciplinary team of University of Kansas (KU) graduate students mobilized to combine efforts and expertise to develop actionable measures to combat the housing crisis.

Organized within architecture professor Joe Colistra’s Architectural Investigations studio, the team – comprised of School of Architecture & Design and College of Liberal Arts & Sciences graduate students – created a proposal for an affordable housing development located in downtown Atlanta which was submitted for inclusion in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition.

Led by Colistra, the team connected KU’s research infrastructure and the students’ respective disciplinary specializations into a collaborative framework to yield a design proposal with real-world import. Working out of the School of Architecture & Design’s Downtown Lawrence Design Center, the students generated a proposal that identified evidence-based strategies that could improve both housing affordability and provide opportunities for the citizens the development would serve. Though a community-focused understanding of services, economic contexts and zoning considerations, the students located innovative methods to employ design, research and civic engagement towards creating a practical approach to affordable housing development.  

In March, the students traveled to Atlanta to present their proposal – a $90.1 million urban redevelopment that includes mixed-use high rise, residential mid-rise, and townhouse buildings. A panel of independent subject-matter-expert jurors selected the KU team as one of four finalists to compete for the competition’s top prize. The finalist teams will present their proposals on April 13 online.

The Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition is an initiative from HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R). Now entering its ninth year, the competition invites teams of graduate students from multiple disciplines to submit plans in response to a real-life affordable housing design issue.

The KU team includes: John Hardie, architecture, Wildwood, MO; Samara Lennox, architecture, Kansas City; Karen Lewis, environmental assessment and indigenous studies, Lawrence; Inbal Hazlett, urban planning, Saint Joseph, MO; and Lizzie Overschmidt, architecture, Saint Peters, MO.

The School of Architecture & Design’s Architectural Investigations studio is part of the architecture department’s Social Entrepreneurship final year option.

Photo: Professor Joe Colistra (at far left) discusses HUD competition project with architecture students (left to right) John Hardie, Elizabeth Overschmidt, and Samara Lennox.