Art I 26.01.16 I by

A photo essay that imagines homes for the homeless in Los Angeles

Part spatial imagination and part a call to arms, HOME(less) is a photo document of individuals living on one main Los Angeles arterial on one weekend in January.

Architects Sofia Borges and Susan Nwankpa overlay their series of stark images with happy housing outcomes to humanise a forgotten class and raise awareness of their plight.

Line drawn typologies range from thatched-roof bungalows to A-frames and Midcentury Case Study Houses and tap into a longing for tranquility. This fleeting architecture reflects transience while signalling to the viewer that these are people with diverse aspirations, interests, and tastes. Personal effects and setting drove the architectural imagination.

Home(less) image 9. Courtesy of Sofia Borges
Home(less) image 9. Courtesy of Sofia Borges and Susan Nwankpa

The project has an air of spontaneity but is highly intentional. Borges and Nwankpa chose environment over portrait for a widened context that shows how the homeless blur public and private space in their quest for safety and sustenance.

LA has an estimated 25,000 homeless people on its streets. LA County counts 44,000. Both are up 12 percent from 2013.

‘If these people weren’t here, where would they be?’ ventures Nwankpa. If nothing else, that’s the question she hopes will lodge in viewers’ minds.

In Borges’ estimation, LA’s homeless are ‘urban ghosts’ confined to the general public’s peripheral vision. And architects are complicit.

‘This is commentary, not an architectural solution. Everyone’s doing slick work, but there’s avoidance of societal ills like homelessness [in the profession],’ says Borges. ‘Architects should take an oath to provide shelter.’

Home(less) image10 . Courtesy of Sofia Borges
Home(less) image10 . Courtesy of Sofia Borges

For sure, some architects have addressed inequities in their practice. This year’s Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena hangs his hat on low-cost social housing and David Adjaye has been a vocal proponent of designing homes and community facilities for the global masses not just the urban elite.

‘There’s talk of allocating big money to social housing in this emergency,’ Borges adds. ‘But none of it is fast enough.’

Ian Spula is a freelance journalist covering architecture, design and property for Chicago Magazine, Dwell and The Spaces.

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