Interior of a model for a multiplex with two floors, a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen on the first floor and a social area and workspace on the second floor.

Two CU Denver Architecture Faculty Win Prestigious Housing Design Education Award

February 13, 2024

On February 7, 2024, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) announced the winners of the 2024 Architectural Education Awards. Assistant Professors José Ibarra and Leyuan Li from the University of Colorado Denver Department of Architecture were recognized for their teaching excellence for their project titled, “Denver Low-Rise: New Domestic Forms of Collective Living,” which foregrounds housing design in Denver. Their work will be celebrated at the 112th Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet in Vancouver, Canada in mid-March, 2024.

Ibarra and Li were among the recipients of this prestigious award, which recognizes “the importance of good education in housing design to produce architects ready for practice in a wide range of areas and able to be capable leaders and contributors to their communities.” Ibarra and Li taught the winning course together during the spring 2023 semester. This was the second design studio in the three-year Master of Architecture program at the CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), which explored the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Denver’s housing crisis, and the possibilities for architecture to create collective living arrangements using the “Missing Middle” housing typology, a type of house-scale buildings that feature multiple residential units.

“Denver has one of the nation’s worst housing shortages in the United States, with the metro area having a deficit of approximately 50,000 homes and apartments and its residents struggling with housing affordability, gentrification, and homelessness,” stated Li. “These issues are exacerbated by the predominant single-family housing model that is favored in this and many other American cities. With less land for building houses and with soaring prices for rent and mortgages, low- and moderate-income households have been displaced, which has diminished housing equity by intensifying the existing social and racial segregation.”

“Responding to these conditions,” Ibarra continued, “the studio course asked, ‘how could we update the existing framework of ‘Missing Middle’ housing and create new typologies that engage the diverse constituents of growing American cities, and which enable them to celebrate the vibrancy of their communities?’ Through different degrees of sharing spatial and social resources, the reinvented ‘Missing Middle’ housing options that arose from the course seeks to establish a ‘common ground.’ In this space, each individual resident can coexist as a member of the community and the city, and architecture can foster equity and inclusion.”

“Existing single-family homes and high-rise apartments don’t promote a sense of community,” said Theresa Khoury, a current Master of Architecture student at CU Denver. “Over the course of the semester, I came to understand that architecture can promote inclusivity by creating shared spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration. To achieve that, my partner and I worked together to reimagine the townhouse typology, introducing gradients of public, collective, and private spaces, and offering large common areas for the neighborhood, such as outdoor gardens and shared kitchens on the ground floor. This design exercise taught me to treat architecture as a collective project and process that responds to social and environmental complexities.”

In addition to being recognized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, this award is also supported by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the largest design organization in the world that works “to transform the day-to-day practice of architecture to achieve a zero-carbon, resilient, healthy, just, equitable built environment, for everyone.”

“The 2024 AIA/ACSA Housing Design Education Award is a highly competitive award for architecture faculty in North America and a first-time win for the College of Architecture and Planning at CU Denver,” said Marc Swackhamer, chair of the Department of Architecture at CAP. “Professors Ibarra and Li’s dedication and excellence are recognized by this accolade, which is also a testament to the high level of teaching and research taking place in our department.”

See the full list of all winners of the ACSA 2024 Architectural Education Awards.