Design Parameters for Teams

The Charter Communities XPRIZE is going to challenge teams to design a master plan of an intentional community with a built environment and social infrastructure that will empower low-income residents.

Our team is currently refining the design parameters that will guide teams as they work on their solutions. These parameters include:

The housing must be affordable for the targeted residents according to various measures.
The housing must be capable of faster than usual construction times.
The housing must be resilient in the face of natural or human-caused disasters.
The housing must be durable against normal wear and tear for the lifespan of occupancy.
Construction waste must be reduced or eliminated in the from building to end-of-life.
The housing must be energy efficient and conserve water at or beyond the highest modern standards.
The interior environment must promote the health of residents through healthy materials, lack of toxins, ample natural light, proper temperature and humidity, and minimization of light and noise pollution.
The built environment must incorporate aesthetics and cultural specificity according to the community’s desires and needs.
The community design must incorporate the needs and feedback of the target residents to a considerable and satisfactory degree.
The master plan must include a governance structure designed according to the community’s values and residents’ rights.
The design must include a robust plan for community engagement, interaction, networking, and trust-building among residents.
The community must provide access to information through a robust digital infrastructure and the coordination of services and opportunities.

  • The operations of the community must have a plan for **financial sustainability** for the long term.
  • Our questions for you:

    What is missing? Or, what isn’t necessary? What can be added to any one of the parameters here to give it more specificity?

    These parameters will be used to guide what teams must perform in order to compete in and win the XPRIZE competition.

    We look forward to seeing all of your insights and feedback!

    Please let us know in the comments below if you have questions about any of these, or ideas of what should be added.

    Hello all - above are our design parameters for review! We’re excited to get your feedback on these, as they are a core component of the prize design and something the design team has been working hard on.

    Please share any thoughts, ideas, or links you might have relevant to any of these thirteen parameters (or others that you feel should be considered and included)! We look forward to all of your insights and thoughts on these. Let us know if you have any questions!

    @jrmtchll @leahpeker @FreeWilliam @samanthasuppiah @HousingMichigan @RBarragan @mkooistra @csmith102462 @JimKing @ashokjain @Rwyse @Nirmita @alexadlp @LisaHomesFund @bngejane @Jefferson @fferguson @RachitaMisra @dpelleti @Greenduck @sunshinem @SRashkin @annedodge @FanyuLin @sglaude1 @prernakuhad

    Point 1. “The housing must be affordable for the targeted residents according to various measures.”

    Affordability of housing must be seen in the context of the total cost of living which would include not only the cost of housing itself but also cost of travel (to workplace, schools, healthcare facilities, markets and entertainment points), energy, water, food, health and education. Quite often the perfect projects are built in the boon docks (due to affordable land costs) and resultantly occupancy of the homes dwindles over time because while the house itself is affordable the cost of living in the house is not.

    Solve for X

    We take Moonshots.


    In the wake of COVID, I think health is going to be a top priority for people. This kind of touches on a few of the points up at the top, because the pandemic is a natural disaster that has affected the financial stability of many people and has made people much more concerned about avoiding germs than ever before. How can affordable housing guarantee that people will not be marginalized, but will have access to clean spaces? How can the housing itself promote health? In the event of another natural disaster in which people are isolated, how can the housing community sustain itself and provide people with access to interaction, supplies, etc.

    As for note 2, the best way to speed the construction is the invest more time into the design (hence here we are) and think through various scenarios and value engineering, and thorough coordination between the various trades (i.e. MEP and structural). A little time/$ in design = a lot of time/$ in construction.

    So I guess my takeaway here is that while these are all commendable goals, in the practical realities of building and governing cities some of the goals be perceived as mutually exclusive; for example, housing affordability is a salient and unarguable issue worldwide. However, when we consider that homes must be more durable for everyday use AND more resilient to disaster events, issues of cost come into play. As a fire inspector and a fire investigator I can tell the group that substandard construction materials, improper assembly or maintenance of a structure often figures prominently in the cause of home fires in the US. Safety demands that 1) qualified personnel assemble the correct materials in the correct way (which drives up cost) and 2) that building and fire codes are followed over the life of a structure in order to ensure that durability and safety (cost of administering public safety programs, etc.). The latter point also factors in to Item #2 in the list of objectives, that new homes must be built in faster than usual construction times. Many times lags in construction progress exist for a reason; for instance, installation of plumbing and electrical utilities cannot take place until verification of correct framing; wall coverings and finish cannot be installed until verification of correct utility installation, etc. Increasing the speed of the build, as the construction process currently exists, compromises the ability to ensure these structures are built to model code standards AND encourages builders to cut corners or use improper materials in order to meet deadlines, which compromises durability and resilience. As I see it, in order to meet the listed objectives we will need to nurture changes building materials and methods while encouraging emerging safety innovations while creating an environment in which the permitting, plans review, and inspection processes are also more agile and moving at speed with newer methods of construction. And in order to do this we have to engage elected officials and construction lobbies which don’t understand the technical aspects of these interlocking problems and are traditionally resistant to change.

    1. Much of this list isn’t new. Everything related to “sustainable design” guidance (resiliency, durability, construction waste, energy efficiency, etc.) has been embedded in green building programs for close to two decades. Enterprise Green Communities, LEED for Homes, Earthcraft, Living Building Challenge, etc. I honestly don’t think there is value is recapitulating existing programs, other than integrating existing structures.

    2. Affordability. This question is fundamental to the inquiry, and it needs far more effort to define with specificity. Depth of affordability, duration of affordability, spread of affordability (mixed-income or single purpose), etc.

    3. There are three ideas in this list that are worth exploring in more detail: incorporating needs/feedback, establishing residents’ rights, and community engagement. These tie to a critical missing component of this work so far. As far as I can tell, no one participating in this process (myself included) has the lived expertise necessary to help craft a vision.

    4. To be honest, there is nothing in the list that lives up to XPRIZE’S reputation in my opinion. This list is largely iterative based on the fantastic work being done across the country. There is nothing transformative or “next level.” I’ve shared this before on previous posts, but I strongly believe that frontier that needs energy, funding, and focus is the development of housing that results in a fundamental shift in wealth and ownership through an anti-racist lens. Housing infrastructure in the US is fundamental rooted in race-based exclusion (for families of color, specifically black families) and race-based advantage (for white families). The real opportunity for a transformative housing model is to take this issue on explicitly. This is where a transformative opportunity lies.

    Thanks everyone for the input so far!

    @sunshinem - Is there anything n particular you would love to see added? What are some transformational or breakthrough elements that could be included beyond these?

    @jrmtchll - Are there any specific projects, or building materials, which you felt had success or progress in addressing these challenges?

    @leahpeker - Great perspective, home and neighborhood are so important in times of duress like these! There’s so much housing can do to better residents’ health. As to your second point, are there any particular areas where the extra design time has the most potential impact?

    @prernakuhad - What living costs do you think could be, or should be, reduced the most? Where could the biggest breakthroughs be?

    a floatable Island Housing made of garbage plastics will do.

    There are very few examples of single or multi family housing which “check all the boxes” from each of the perspectives of safety, durability and resilience. However, a new paradigm in safe home construction that would get us closer to the mark would include concrete construction, which is harder wearing for durability and more energy efficient as the climate changes; concrete walls also enhance the passive fire protection properties of a home, although currently people who choose to build with concrete are also building these homes with wooden partition walls for aesthetics. I understand that among affordable housing advocates there is a strong push for more wooden components since wood is a cheap, renewable resource—in fact, there are high rise apartments being built right now of wood, using a new structural member called cross laminated timber (CLT). I can’t make an argument against wooden, preassembled structural components based on speed or cost, but I also cannot recommend them from a durability or disaster resilience perspective using current residential construction methods. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this week in the US is Home Fire Sprinkler Week; 80% of fire deaths occur in the home (more deaths than all the disasters declared in the US combined, in a normal year) and a cost effective, resource efficient way to keep these structures in use and keep their occupants safe is home fire sprinklers. Most home fires are controlled or extinguished with the activation of one sprinkler head flowing 13-15 gallons per minute versus firefighters flowing water from a fire hose at the rate of 150-200 gallons per minute. In remote and water stressed areas residential fire sprinklers are a critical system to ensure the home survives a fire event, but the home construction lobby in the US resists their installation because if fewer homes are lost to fire, they won’t get to build as many new homes. Ensuring that model codes are followed for both sprinklers and smoke alarms will have major impacts on safety and quality of life. An emerging issue is how to ensure the use of smoke alarms in temporary or improvised housing such as shanty towns—the last several years have seen several tragic fires in these settlements since there are no mechanisms in place to notify occupants of a fire. The problem with alternate construction materials and fire protection systems stems from misperceptions about cost; builders and other opponents of newer, resilient housing always lead off with the fact that these structures cost more; while that is true for initial construction, over the life of these buildings (longer than a wooden home, we should note) overall costs are less—and if they are less vulnerable to fire, flood, wind, etc. then those buildings will be occupied for much longer.

    The strata of power, the scaffolding that frames our systems and institutions, took us four hundred years to construct. With layer upon layer of root, flesh, and stone, we have laid beaten paths of opportunity and exclusion throughout our nation. Like every other system in our country, the housing system has been constructed on racist policies that have advantaged white Americans and disadvantaged black and brown Americans. If our goal is to accomplish authentic progress, we must engage the work with a common analysis – specifically, an analysis of the institutional racism that permeates our systems, by intention and by neglect.

    The fulcrum of innovation must be rooted in confronting the legacy of our housing policy, focused on undoing centuries of policies, incentives, and race-based decision-making have calcified the strata of power and advantage across the nation, with people of color accruing the least of it.

    The core of the XPRIZE design parameters should focus on actively dismantle our country’s racist housing legacy - centering equity issues such as centering decision-making in communities of color and economic models that disrupt cycles of generational poverty through shared ownership.

    So while energy efficiency, healthy materials, etc. are important aspects of equitable, innovative affordable housing development, they are wholly insufficient in and of themselves. Housing innovation is as much as about power and agency as it is about production and implementation.

    An anti-racist framework of analysis would be transformative.

    @NickAzer @NickOttens

    You might want to check out;

    …for community building interesting case for parameter design on retrofit vs greenfield projects.

    I’d highly recommend looking into the Living Community Challenge (Living Community Challenge | which addresses many of the original ambition and more - while creating a regenerative urban setting that is a net benefit to the natural environment.

    “There is a huge amount of potential around automation and robotics, but let’s be honest, we’re not there yet…” Matt Gough,