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Making It Right in a Tough Kansas City Neighborhood

By Paula Melton
March 05, 2012
Courtesy BNIM Architects
The design of the Bancroft School project will include both new construction of residential units and the renovation and restoration of the existing historic Bancroft School structure.

The new LivingHome C6, developed in collaboration with Make It Right and William McDonough, can be fully constructed in less than two months and installed on-site in one day.
Courtesy LivingHomes
The new LivingHome C6, developed in collaboration with Make It Right and William McDonough, can be fully constructed in less than two months and installed on-site in one day.
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The Make It Right Foundation, founded by Brad Pitt to help build sustainably designed, flood-protected homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, has broadened its scope to back affordable housing projects in other cities. Working with BNIM Architects and Delmark Development Group in Kansas City, Missouri, the foundation will aid the radical redesign and revitalization of the ravaged Manheim Park neighborhood.

The local newspaper refers to the neighborhood as “the killing zip code,” says Bob Berkebile, FAIA, founding principal at BNIM. The district is half empty lots where homes used to be, and only about half of the homes still standing are even occupied, he says. But in recent years the community was rebranded as the Green Impact Zone by the state and began receiving financing to promote sustainable planning, building, and retrofits.

BNIM’s work in the area, begun years ago with pro bono visioning sessions, continues with the adaptive reuse of Bancroft School, a historic 1909 building that has been severely damaged by both vandals and weather. Berkebile describes a design that aspires to “LEED Platinum or better” and includes 29 affordable housing units, a preschool, health clinic, community center, urban gardens, and renewable energy. BNIM hopes to find additional funding for a computer lab as well as a greenhouse that would be part of a “living machine” for processing wastewater on the site. The project will also include a 21-townhome addition that will serve as transitional step toward homeownership for neighborhood residents. 

“You can’t break these patterns and turn them around totally by one clever project,” he acknowledges, making it clear that both BNIM and Make It Right are in Manheim Park for the long haul. “You have to change social programs, economic vitality. It includes training and mentoring, great design, and a different kind of thinking. When you apply all those and stop, there’s still work to be done.”

Phase two of revitalization will aid homeowners near the Bancroft School building. “People desperately want to renew the area,” Berkebile says. “We are going to create jobs and rehabilitate homes in the neighborhood—both occupied and unoccupied.” There are also plans to build new homes for those who need them, as Make It Right has done in New Orleans, by developing prototype houses and allowing future homeowners to choose the design they prefer. Berkebile hopes that using innovative sustainable design strategies in the Kansas City project will lead to positive change far beyond the neighborhood by “setting benchmarks for affordable housing in this city that will have a catalytic force.”

With nonprofit group Help USA, Make It Right also recently completed the Clinton Avenue Urban Renewal Project, an affordable housing complex for veterans and low-income families in Newark, New Jersey. The foundation has also worked with Living Homes and William McDonough, FAIA, on its C6 line of prefabricated homes; a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these homes goes to Make It Right.

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