Meet Margaret Kavourias, residential studio design director at RDL Architects, Inc., in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
The firm has a long history of designing affordable housing developments, including cottage-style and multi-story seniors housing, permanent supportive housing, multifamily rehab projects, and a battered women's shelter.
Kavourias, an urban planner, has been the primary facilitator of the firm's charrette process for master planning and is responsible for working with clients in applying for low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) funding in multiple states.
She shares how designing affordable housing has influenced her, design trends to watch for, and her favorite building.
How did you get interested in designing affordable housing?
By accident! When I first came to RDLA I worked primarily on yield analyses for our affordable housing developers, but that quickly evolved into site design, schematic building design, and preparing the architectural portion of the LIHTC submittals for our clients. Before long, I was knee”deep in qualified allocation plans, design handbooks, and UFAs. The design of affordable housing can bring numerous challenges, but it is always rewarding when you see the end product.
How are your affordable housing designs changing?
Designs are changing based on new accessibility guidelines, more stringent green building criteria, and increasingly more specific guidance from state housing finance agencies. Aside from this growing concentration on green building and accessible design, we're focusing on common space efficiency, looking into new exterior and interior building materials and finishes, and, as always, looking for new ways to keep our designs economical.
We are also interested in quantifying how design affects the resident's well”being, building management, and operational costs. With over 15 years in the affordable housing business, along with our clients, we have the history to begin to understand how our buildings have been functioning, how green features have impacted the building, and how services are used.
What design trends should people watch for?
More than ever, a strong partnership and collaboration between our developers and providers is extremely important to the creation and ultimate success of a project. A large portion of our work at RDLA is continuing-care retirement communities, many of which are looking for opportunities to expand their services off campus due to their site constraints. Matching providers with developers to create satellite buildings is increasingly beneficial.
Mixed”use development, renovation projects, and adaptive reuse are as strong as ever in this market.
Mixing residential with commercial spaces, especially medical or educational facilities, is becoming increasingly popular.
Programming within the building is also changing. We're noticing more of our clients including educational facilities for distance education programs. Fitness rooms are also expanding to include space for not only exercise equipment, but for yoga classes or physical therapy.
Share a favorite architectural element in one of your recent affordable projects.
Church Square Commons: The storefront system and awning. The four”story, 48”unit affordable seniors development was challenged to appear to be a mixed”use building with commercial space on the ground floor due to the building location along the RTA Healthline/Euclid Corridor in Cleveland. We placed all the community space along the streetfront of the building and designed the exterior to seamlessly transition between the private realms to the public right of way. In the end, the front fa§ade of the building really makes a strong impact on the Corridor while creating dramatic interior spaces for residents.
Are there any unique design features that RDL tries to incorporate in its multifamily developments?
All RDLA designs are guided by three principles: Simple. Economical. Beautiful. These principles equate to value and efficiency for both for”profit and not”for”profit clients. Creating an efficient building is important for constructability, long”term maintenance, and building costs.
Besides the most obvious examples, how is your vision for an affordable housing building influenced by its future residents?
For senior living projects, allowing residents the opportunity to age in place is significant, to the residents and their families, both financially and in quality of life. Having the vision and understanding of the programming needs for services that allow aging in place strongly influences designing the space to meet current and future needs. Understanding the needs and well”being of the residents keeps us alert to staying informed on the latest standards for exercise and activity rooms; space for education opportunities; collaborative opportunities with providers of services; and best practices for site and building safety.
Extremely influential to us at RDLA is having the vision or the sometimes simple but extremely important standards and details needed for improved quality of life for residents. Having a vision based design can make a big difference in the lives of residents, whether for permanent supportive housing, senior living, or multifamily”“details and standards matter.
What is your strategy for melding the needs of the developer, the residents, and the community at large in a single design?
Listen to everyone. We always design a better, more efficient product and at a cost savings when we hear everyone's objectives and concerns up front. At that point, we are then able to incorporate design elements from the ground up to meet the specific program objectives and address any known issues that save time and money for everyone. Having an overall standard of high-quality design and durable products promotes overall team cooperation and approvals.
In what ways do you think recent affordable housing designs have shined?
When an affordable housing development is seamlessly integrated into the existing neighborhood fabric by careful site selection and sensitive building design, it really shines because it's not deemed “affordable.” The stigma that was once attached to “affordable” is changing with the evolution of affordable building design, the positive results of stimulating the local economy, and through the perseverance of developers in educating communities about the value of providing affordable housing.
Affordable housing has been on the forefront of the green building movement in this county. Many of the programs we work within have embraced the concept of going green to be good stewards of our environment and for long-term cost considerations for residents and building management.
How has designing affordable projects influenced your work overall and personally?
When it comes down to it, designing affordable housing has made me aware of the incredible value having this option brings to so many families. Designing affordable housing has also made me more aware of accessibility needs. I can't go anywhere without thinking about how a building or space is accessed by someone with a mobility impairment. The standards of affordable housing in terms of accessibility, green building, and overall innovation of design have also influenced and inspired our market”rate multifamily product.
What inspires you?
My co”workers and clients ”¦ they are people who are passionate about what they do. It's motivating to work with a group of people who are constantly trying to push the envelope on design and development and sincerely care about the mission of providing housing for all Americans.
What is your dream project?
I'd love to work on a long”term mixed”use, master-planning project that incorporates all types of housing.
Preferably the project would be local, aesthetically compelling, and would contribute to long-term job creation and economic stimulation for the community.
When you are not at work, where we would find you?
When I'm not at work I can be found with my husband, family, or friends. My husband, Jim, and I both grew up in the Cleveland area, and we have a great network of family and friends. Something is always going on! I can also be found reading a good book at home.
Besides the usual work papers, what's on your desk or in your office?
An Elvis bobblehead, coffee, design books ”¦ everything else is lost under all the papers.
Any hidden talents?
I keep thinking one day I'll find a hidden talent, but right now none whatsoever.
What is your favorite building in the world and why?
The house I grew up in. I grew up in an environment that has given me the ultimate appreciation for housing and what it can truly mean for someone to have a place to call home. It's definitely not an iconic piece of American architecture, but it is by far my favorite ”¦ I suppose Fallingwater isn't so shabby either.
What's next for Meg Kavourias and RDL Architects?
Coming to RDL Architects immediately out of grad school in 2004 was the best opportunity possible.
Being a collaborative practice, the benefit I've received from the shared experience of such a knowledgeable and skilled team of professionals is invaluable. I have recently been appointed to the position of RDLA residential studio director. Now, as a part of the leadership, I have the opportunity to participate and contribute more directly in the continued success of this firm and the clients and residents we serve.