AIA Disruptive Housing Competition

Disruptive Design was a three-part design competition  seeking to address the challenges associated with designing and building affordable, owner-occupied housing. The competition was initiated by the Chicago Housing Policy Task Force — a diverse group of organizations invested in creating affordable housing in Chicago — and carried out by a team of individuals representing those organizations.

The Challenge

Cities across the country are observing a rapid decline in affordable homeownership options for first-time buyers and working families.


In Chicago, the desire for affordable and accessible housing, with opportunities for flexibility and aging in place, is present in both gentrifying and underserved Chicago neighborhoods. As the cost of construction and labor increases and incomes do not grow at pace, the affordability gap and the cost of construction is no longer advantageous to build starter homes.

This competition wanted solutions to the affordable housing gap that would allow for the development of sustainable, affordable, replicable, dynamic and multi-faceted housing solutions that build wealth and opportunities for homeowners across Chicago. 

Home designs submitted in this competition may not exceed a $250,000 sales price.

Our Solution

A century ago, Chicago invented pre-fabrication with the Sears catalog house and jumpstarted a new era of homeownership for working-class Americans. We can do it again today, and better here’s how.

Like the house itself, our solution is premised on a simple idea that engages a complex network of financial, regulatory, and social processes. It starts with the carriage house, the long-overlooked repository of recycling bins and lawnmowers that has only recently garnered attention for its latent potential. Under our proposal, the carriage house becomes the catalyst for a larger transformation — the first step toward widespread homeownership, wealth-building, social mobility, and urban densification.

  • We begin by proposing zoning changes that allow lot owners to rebuild carriage houses as standalone, single-family residences.

  • Existing lot owners can choose to subdivide and sell alley-facing lots to developers, generating income, raising property values, and creating a new stock of affordable, manageably-sized units.

  • Concurrent investment from the City and neighbors into the alleyway creates a shared, accessible resource for aging-in-place and live-work arrangements.

  • Using prefabrication to reduce upfront costs and durable details to reduce maintenance, carriage house owners can pay off smaller mortgages and subsequently reinvest; into the adjacent, street-side properties, into the neighborhood, and into their futures.

New investment comes with the opportunity for an investment in people, and the communities of Humboldt Park and Bronzeville will share in the project’s benefits and participate in its evolution. Ultimately, this proposal’s power lies in generating opportunities for homeowners, developers and neighbors alike."