Quick access:
Go directly to content (Alt 1)Go directly to second-level navigation (Alt 3)Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)

Worlds of Homelessness
​What It Takes to Make a Home

Planen zwischen einem Zaun und einer Leitplanke in Los Angeles
© Canadian Centre for Architecture

In many cities around the globe, the number of people without consistent access to shelter has increased to represent a significant percentage of the overall population. Today, the growing number of people migrating to cities, the economic pressure that augments the gap between the rich and the poor, and housing projects being turned into global commodities are just some causes of this new reality of inequality in cities across the globe. What does it mean to live in the city without a place you can call your own? What role can architects have in addressing homelessness? And how can cities become a better home for all?

2019 | 28 min | Canada | Part One of a Three-Part Documentary Series
The film What It Takes to Make a Home follows a conversation between architects Michael Maltzan (Los Angeles) and Alexander Hagner (Vienna), who have been grappling with these questions over many years and through various projects. While the cities and the political and economic contexts in which Maltzan and Hagner work differ, both search for long-term strategies for housing instead of reacting with ad hoc solutions. Focussing on some causes and conditions of homelessness, the film questions the role architects can play toward overcoming the stigmatization of people experiencing it, in order to build more inclusive cities.

“It’s hard not to become pessimistic and it’s reasonable to feel that way.”

Michael Maltzan

What is a home in the first place? A rectangular space enclosed by walls, a tarp tightened in between a fence and a guard rail, a car, just a roof? For each individual the answer might vary, yet, while some have the ability to choose the place they call home, a growing number of people cannot. Instead, they have to dedicate every day to constantly rebuilding their homes—in any form they materialize—out on the street. Throughout the film, the sense of normalcy of having a job, a safe place to live, and a community to rely on, is put into question: “a person with a tie near you on the tram can be homeless,” states an interviewee who was formerly homeless in Vienna.
  • Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Star Apartments © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Star Apartments in Los Angeles
  • Stillframe from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Tarps tightened in between a fence and a guard rail in Los Angeles © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Shelter in Los Angeles
  • Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - View of Vinzi Rast © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Vinzi Rast
  • Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - View Vienna © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Vienna
  • Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Michael Maltzan Profile © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Michael Maltzan
  • Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Alexander Hagner working in his Studio © CCA Canadian Centre for Architecture
    Still frame from the CCA film "What it takes to make a home" - Alexander Hagner
Zooming into Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood on Google Street View, we see tents lined up along the streets, covering the sidewalks. Contemporary cartography maps a reality in which society struggles to respond to the increasing number of people who find themselves pushed out of their homes into the streets, not only in Los Angeles. “It’s hard not to become pessimistic and it’s reasonable to feel that way,” admits architect Michael Maltzan, who has dedicated his practice in recent years to addressing homelessness in Los Angeles. Star Apartments is one of these projects, which was realized by Skid Row Housing Trust, a non-profit organization that provides permanent housing for those formerly without homes in downtown Los Angeles. Developing alternative housing models in greater quantities has the potential to make a change, asserts Maltzan. But the scope of the housing crisis and the sheer number of people facing homelessness in Los Angeles today cannot be solved solely with architecture. It demands the involvement of various actors operating at multiple political, economic, and social levels.

Architect Alexander Hagner, from the firm gaupenraub+/-, engages with similar questions in Vienna, a city that has, historically, been known for its long tradition of progressive social housing policies, but that has seen a significant increase in homelessness over the past years. Here, the housing crisis is less visible than in Los Angeles but is still a pressing urban issue. Stigmatization oftentimes averts society from helping those in need, concludes Hagner, who believes that creating a specific architecture for a segment of society inadvertently emphasizes the difference. Consequently, the housing project VinziRast-mittendrin designed by Hagner does not stand out at first sight. Yet, the project is exceptional, as it provides a prototype for a new form of community, in which students and individuals formerly without homes live together.

Overall, the film focuses on a condition that affects societies across the world and that architecture and urbanism cannot fail to address. Architects, as Hagner states, will not be able to solve the complex reality of homelessness, but they can help to frame life on different scales, supporting communities as well as individuals. Similarly, Maltzan is convinced that architects cannot escape engaging with those crucial spatial questions to bring positive change to the city.

What It Takes to Make a Home is the first of the three-part documentary series produced by the Canadian Centre for Architecture. This series examines the ways in which changing societies, new economic pressures, and increasing population density are affecting the homes of various communities. Through the lens of two architectural projects in two cities with different socio-political contexts, each episode looks at the global scope as well as the local specificities of a particular issue. While the first episode examines how architects are confronting the pressing issue of homelessness in Los Angeles and Vienna, the second and third parts of this series deal with other challenges to urban society created by changes in lifestyles and demographics that affect the spatial configuration of our environments: the increase of families consisting of one single person, and our growing aging society.

Top