The Aya

The Aya is a new affordable housing project built by the District of Columbia. It provides “short-term housing” for up to fifty families in need of emergency shelter. 

Constructed for approximately twenty-one million dollars, the AYA provides “wrap-around” services for the resident families in addition to supplying space for a federally qualified health center (non-profit) that serves residents of the greater neighborhood.

The Aya is one of the City’s eight new short-term family housing facilities constructed to collectively battle homelessness.  One facility was placed in each of the District of Columbia’s eight wards.  Of all the new short-term family housing projects, only the design of the Aya received a letter of unanimous support from the local Advisory Neighborhood Council.  We believe this testifies to the quality of the design and the success of the public engagement process.

The building program requested seven to ten housing units per level with community rooms, laundry facilities, monitoring stations, and private and family bathrooms on each floor.  The designers added outdoor play areas on each level to avoid children having to travel on elevators to reach outdoor play below. The ground floor includes a dining area, computer room, exam room, and administrative areas.   The sub-level below the ground floor houses the clinic.  The building is seven stories tall constructed on a post tensioned concrete structure to avoid placing columns in the corner of the ziggurat shaped massing.

Ayahuasca is a South American entheogenic brew commonly made out of the Banisteriopsis … Other plant ingredients often or occasionally used in the production of ayahuasca include Justicia … In the Quechua languages, aya means “spirit, soul”, or “corpse, dead body”, and waska means “rope” or “woody vine”, “liana”.

The building’s design responses to three important contextual concerns; (1) a site situated on one of DC’s original arterial streets as determined by Pierre L’Enfant (2) dignifying private and public interactions for families occupying small dwelling units and (3) addressing the requests of the local neighborhood shareholders who’s support was needed to procure a zoning variance, a public entitlement.

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The concept is a building that has no front or back and responds to the arterial street viewshed thru a ziggurat form that preserves the existing tree canopies and allows for maximum daylighting views to each of the small dwelling units.  Each elevation of the building is uniquely different; the glassy North facade contains community rooms on each floor that look out towards Capitol, the dynamic South facade frames the entrance to the health clinic, and the calm East facade contains screened outdoor play spaces on each floor, The small green roofs at the terrace along the stepped West facade imply a “front lawn” for each unit. The boundaries of the new building stay within the existing buildings footprint, preserving the open land that occupies the north of the site, that was originally owned by the National Park Service. The new building yields in height to both the future housing development to the east and the Capitol Park Plaza Apartment building to the west. Care is taken to organize separate entrances to the health clinic and short-term family housing on different faces of the building. The building is intended to complement the developing skyline of southwest Washington DC while creating an optimal living experience for the tenants.

In addition to an on-site clinic all inhabitants have access to interior and exterior spaces on every floor as well as community rooms and private spaces. Care was taken in the development of the first-floor plinth to maximize natural light to clinic space below grade while protecting the building from water and air infiltration.

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Each floor features a different organizing color to foster a sense of community and ease of orientation.

The text is credited by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture. Aya has won over 6 awards:

2020 AIA DC; Award of Excellence
2020 AIA DC Washingtonian; Distinctive Residential Architecture
2020 VA AIA; Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture
2021 Residential Magazine Merit Award in Affordable Housing
2021 Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award
2022 AIA Housing Award

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