Union Studio wins Gindroz Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing

DON POWERS is the founding partner of Providence-based architectural firm Union Studio Architecture & Community Design Inc., which recently received the 2023 Gindroz Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing from the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, a national nonprofit organization committed to promoting and preserving the practice, understanding and appreciation of classical design. The award recognizes excellence in the design and implementation of affordable housing.

What does winning this award mean for the firm? Being awarded the Gindroz Award … feels like a validation of our mission. For 24 years we’ve tried to bring a seriousness of purpose and our absolute best efforts to a type of housing for which good design is too often an afterthought. We’ve worked hard to create homes and neighborhoods that offer a chance for community and a sense of dignity to the residents. … For Union Studio, the award is confirmation that our efforts are seen and acknowledged and that we’ve had a measure of success.

What kind of affordable housing projects has Union Studio worked on locally and where? Since 2004, we’ve designed more than 140 affordable housing projects across eight states, the majority in the Northeast. Ninety-five of those projects are in Rhode Island, and more than 40 of those are in Providence. Those include a historic hotel renovated into homes for people on the edge of homelessness; two historic mansions transformed into apartments for people living with HIV/AIDS; cottages for veterans struggling with the physical, psychological and economic impacts of war; and the mixed-use Smith Hill affordable housing developments Trinity Place and Capitol Square.

How much of an impact have these projects had on boosting communities in need? I think this question is best answered by someone in one of those communities who has experienced it. The following statements are the words of Adewole T. Akinbi, a facilitator and community liaison for HalfFull LLC in Providence: “Twenty-four years ago, my mom was approved for housing through the Smith Hill Community Development Corp. When I was 10, we moved into the Renaissance property on Goddard Street. I lived there for the next 10 years. The Smith Hill CDC was a big part of my development and their newsletters, programming, homework help, field trips were at no cost to the kids who lived in their housing. … It was a really good experience.”

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Is Union Studio working on additional local affordable housing projects? If so, where and when are they slated to come online? Currently under construction and slated to open for initial occupancy in 2024 are: West House II in Middletown (senior rental housing); Frenchtown Road Apartments in East Greenwich (63 rental apartments); Park Holm Phase IV in Newport (51 rental apartments); Residences at Riverside Square in East Providence (16 rental apartments); and Ivy Place in East Providence (13 homeownership townhouses – three of which are live-work configuration).