Waldo Duplex

Posted on August 22nd, 2017 at 3:20 pm by


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In mid-July, the KSU Design+Make Studio completed its single largest and most comprehensive project, The Waldo Duplex, which extends the legacy of design-build projects at Kansas State University. The duplex is located in the heart of the Waldo neighborhood at 7509 Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. The project bridges the Design+Make Studio’s rigorous investigation of the construction process within challenging contexts; and el dorado’s history of design excellence within affordable housing.

Waldo is a diverse and dynamic neighborhood. Once the southern extent of the city’s former streetcar line, Waldo doesn’t play by the rules of conventional urbanism or City Beautiful urban planning but has flourished nonetheless. The major commercial and industrial corridor along Wornall Road, Waldo’s major thoroughfare, is immediately flanked by established neighborhoods of single-family bungalows and shotgun homes. Here, in “The Urban Wilderness of Waldo” exist opportunities for typological experimentation and architectural innovation.

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“The urban wilderness of Waldo”

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Site context



The Waldo Duplex was designed and built by the 2016-2017 studio to be a solution to a significant, if an unexpected problem in Metropolitan Kansas City. Rent is rising at a rate higher than the national average, negatively impacting lower-income neighborhoods like Waldo.

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Targeting only households making less than 80% of area median income and implementing rent controls, this project will be home for two moderately low-income families that want to live and work in Waldo but otherwise could not afford to.

More importantly, this project suggests that a maligned architectural typology – the duplex – can be built affordably without sacrificing architectural integrity.

The school year began with an ambiguous program statement: “Throughout the two semesters, we will be studying the challenges of creating affordable housing in Kansas City and, more broadly, in the United States. A number of approaches to solving this growing problem exist, and it’s critically important to define and understand how this project fits into a broader national conversation.” The studio partnered with long-time eldo client and friends at Botwin Commercial Development to tackle the issue.

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Client presentation

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Throughout the fall semester, the students worked to understand the constraints and opportunities present in the project, developed a program appropriate for multi-family housing, refined ideas and concepts, and became familiar with the fabrication facilities available to them. The studio was split into four teams, each with a plausible, unique idea. Through a presentation and selection process, they eventually came together as a whole, rallied behind a singular idea.

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The vacant lot was cleared and ground was broken at the end of the fall semester. Although much of the focus in the spring turned towards both on-site construction and in-shop fabrication, new understandings of site conditions and budget constraints required constant refinement of the drawings and design. With an “all in” budget of $290,000 (not including the cost of land), the project sought to provide affordable rents while satisfying the clients’ economic model.

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Despite an overwhelmingly wet spring, students worked on site along professional contractors day in and day out.

The building designed by the students challenges both the historic and the modern typology of the duplex. This building type was conceived to meet housing needs in lower-income municipalities and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, developers today use the duplex model in a way that creates suburban neighborhoods with no identity whatsoever. Instead, The Waldo Duplex looks to the inherent benefits of duplex construction but works to redefine the building typology. Traditional duplexes isolate their tenants on either side of a partition wall. The Waldo Duplex unites them through the tradition of the front porch.

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Section looking north

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Floor plan



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In a larger sense, this project seeks to understand why affordable housing solutions often fall short. Typical affordable housing design only advances perceptions of inequality rather than fights them. This project suggests that affordability and thoughtful architecture are not mutually exclusive. The Waldo Duplex challenges preconceived notions of affordable housing — generic, poor quality design and construction, lack of innovation.

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It is the beginning of an important conversation. Can we build affordably, satisfy a strict economic model, and support the dignity of the residents?

Students involved in the 2016-2017 Design+Make Studio include Jason Barker, Wade Byers, Lannie Cowden, Chenyu Lou, Doan Pham, Jacob Pivonka, Kaitlyn Portner, Zachary Pritchard, Taylor Rice, Andrew Schopen, Brock Traffas, Michael Twitchel, and Emily Whitty. Additionally, this project wouldn’t have been possible without the help and expertise of Botwin Commercial Development, Studio Build, Foster’s Inc., Derek Porter Studio, Vinland Valley Nursery, and countless sponsors and partners.