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Metro Cities: Could homes on stilts be the answer to Canada's housing woes?

Architectural designer Llywelyn James has a pie-in-the-sky idea that could fix affordable housing shortages in big cities.

James calls the design &quottechnically, socially, formally ambitious architecture of dwelling for the future." Though it includes real structural basis, he said, it leaves room for the end-user to use their imagination.

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James calls the design "technically, socially, formally ambitious architecture of dwelling for the future." Though it includes real structural basis, he said, it leaves room for the end-user to use their imagination.

Architectural designer Llywelyn James, who splits his time between Hong Kong and London, has an innovative solution to create affordable downtown housing: build it on stilts above brownfields. The design turns the land that once housed factories into neighbourhoods without churning up all that contaminated dirt.

Each building is centred on a core that supports the roof while the floor is supported by steel cables, leaving the inside wide open and available for different configurations.

The design’s limited contact with the ground also aims to reduce excavation costs.

Though James’ design includes real structural basis, it leaves room for the clients to use their imagination, he told Metro.

Grant Walsom, president of the Canadian Brownfields Network, is encouraged by the innovative plan, particularly its focus on affordable housing. With developable land increasingly sparse in urban centres, he says, developers are often lured away from affordable options. But the residents often require the services, like public transit, of an established neighbourhood.

The buildings in James’ design span 100 metres and touch the ground only at a single point, reducing contact with potential contaminants. It’s basically a fanciful version of a buffer, says Walsom. In existing brownfield projects, that buffer is often created by placing things like parking garages between the ground and the residences.

James calls the design “technically, socially, formally ambitious architecture of dwelling for the future.”

In his vision, each unit would include access to the roof, which would act as a street to allow residents to travel between the buildings.

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