1990

Affordable Housing: Michael Pyatok


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Perhaps the best-known architect specializing in low-income housing is Michael Pyatok, of Oakland, California, who despite small budgets manages to create comfortable living spaces, safe and inviting interior courts, and attractive exteriors composed of bays and trellises. His work ranges from James Lee Court, an apartment block with earth-colored stucco walls decorated with colorful African patterns, which houses twenty-six formerly homeless families in Oakland, to...[a] suburban development for mixed incomes in Bellevue, Washington, which looks for all the world like an exclusive subdivision.

--The Atlantic Monthly footnote 1

UW architecture professor Michael Pyatok is considered the leading designer of low-income housing in the U.S. His work has been featured recently in the national media, including Newsweek and Atlantic Monthly.footnote 1comma footnote 3

Pyatok is known both for his innovative design work and for his efforts to assist in the creation of the community groups that design and build low-income housing projects. "Here is someone who is really making a difference," notes UW architecture chair Jeffrey Oschsner. Pyatok's new book on case studies of low- income housing "promises to be a standard reference work in the field for years to come," he adds.

A practicing architect for some 30 years, Pyatok established his Oakland-based firm, Pyatok Associates, in 1985. Building a practice on designing housing for those least able to afford it has been something of a challenge in the face of dwindling federal funds for public housing. But for Pyatok, designing housing for low-income households has its own rewards.

Pyatok received a bachelor's degree in architecture from the Pratt Institute and a Master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He joined the UW faculty in 1990 and continues to practice through his Oakland firm.

James Lee Court...is different. A result of homeless people, architects, developers, social workers and church leaders who banded together to apply for $4 million in funds, it is both socially innovative and architecturally delightful.

--The New York Times Magazine footnote 2

His track record is unparalleled: Pyatok has won ten out of the eleven design competitions he has entered since 1977, placing second in one. The competitions have included such projects as the new State Capitol City of Alaska; high-density mixed-use housing in New York City and downtown Seattle; West Hollywood's new Civic Center; and most recently, high-density affordable housing and retail related to a transit station in San Diego.

Pyatok's approach brings clients, users, and community members together in the design process. His firm has developed a special set of participatory design methods that use simple graphics and models to aid participants in their decision-making. These hands-on simulation techniques and modeling kits, which help participants to visualize their ideas and evaluate choices, have drawn national attention.

In recognition of his many achievements in housing design over the years, Pyatok was selected by the American Institute of Architects to serve on its National Affordable Housing Task Group. And the National Endowment for the Arts asked him to serve as a consultant to its Design for Housing Program.


    1. "Good News! From Boston to San Francisco the community-based housing movement is transforming bad neighborhoods," Alexander von Hoffman, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1997, p. 31.
    2. "James Lee Court," The New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1993.
    3. "Toppling Towers," Jerry Adler and Maggie Malone, Newsweek, Nov. 4, 1996, p. 70.

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