DESIGN: Multicultural homebuyers find affordable, energy-efficient housing in Lincoln, NE

If you think of Lincoln, Neb. as a community of corn-fed ethnically Scandinavian

Willa Cather characters, think again. The city of 1.7 million is the eighteenth largest refugee relocation site in the United State, with immigrants from Vietnam, Sudan, China, Afghanistan and Bosnia among its new residents, among many other groups.


The wealth of new citizens and contrasting cultures left the city with a conundrum: how to create housing both affordable and palatable to such a varied clientele?

That was the question foremost on Fernando Pages mind when he set out to create Liberty Village, a twenty-unit neighborhood (sixteen detached homes and four townhouses, all Energy Star rated high-efficiency) in Lincoln designed to attract first-time, multicultural homebuyers; the houses range from $120,000 to $135,000. Yes, it’s true, $135,000 is the highest price.


Pages, himself an immigrant from Argentina who specializes in building affordable housing, spent a year embarking on his own sociological study to find out what architectural features cross ethnic lines and which each group prefers. “I went to Sudanese coffee shops and Vietnamese hairdressing salons, interviewing someone from every single demographic group in the area,” he says. He created excel spreadsheets to examine the data.


“People live in homes differently, and I’m not talking about pagodas versus grass huts,” says Pages. “The American dream isn’t American any longer—we have different tastes in clothes and food, and also in architecture.”


He considered, for instance, the way the elderly are often revered in Vietnamese families, making the master bedroom—the nicest living space—on the first floor so a grandmother could easily use it. He found that most of his interviewees preferred an enclosed kitchen, the opposite of the current trend here, which places value on an open kitchen. He crafted sleep-out balconies for Middle Easterners who often roofs as gathering space.


The neighborhood opened last summer to members of ten different nationalities, with a celebration that Pages said resembled a U.N. general assembly (and indeed a UN member was present, he said). “Every house was flying two flags,” Pages says. “A US flag, and flag of their country of origin.”

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