The avenue of ideas: A sustainable, affordable housing experiment

Mary Hardin, Joseph Comella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The metropolitan area of Tucson, Arizona is a repository of traditions for dwelling in extreme conditions, as well as an incubator for new ideas about desert architecture. It is also a place with a long history of poverty and struggle for existence against harsh natural elements. With these conditions in mind, the City of Tucson partnered with five non-profit housing providers to build on one avenue an array of affordable housing prototypes that demonstrate to the public a variety of building systems that work to stabilize interiors from the diurnal temperature swings through insulation or thermal mass. Beginning in 1997, local non-profit housing providers designed and constructed sixteen residences representing five different methods of building low cost housing that comfortably mitigates the summer heat and winter chill. The last of the residences was completed in 2003; all are currently inhabited and in constant use. This article proposes a comparison of the environmental control strategies, building methods, costs, and energy usage of the five different systems as they were brought to fruition in the sixteen residences. Included in the construction methods are: insulated concrete block, foam blocks with concrete-filled cavities, light-gauge steel framing with foam block infill panels, straw bales, and rammed earth. The first four types use insulation as the means of stabilizing interior comforts while the last method relies upon thermal mass. The residences each enclose between 1000 and 1150 square feet of conditioned space and have similar solar orientations. Additionally, each of the homes was inspected during construction by the Tucson Electric Power Company and is guaranteed to provide comfort at a specific monthly cost. The site planning for the sixteen parcels conserves a natural drainage swale as an unbuildable area and promotes roof water collection and retention. A plant survey identified significant native species, which were tagged and protected during construction. Platted as a sixteen-parcel subdivision, this avenue of experimental residences aims to demonstrate to the citizens of a rapidly growing metropolis some of the possibilities for living within their means while adhering to an ethical stance regarding the local and global environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-47
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Green Building
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The avenue of ideas: A sustainable, affordable housing experiment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this