Alabama Sawyer’s Not So Secret Diary
How long have you been working at MAKEbhm?
I think we started in October of 2016, so, how ever many years it’s been since then. A little over two years.
What's your favorite thing about working at MAKEbhm?
So we started in office from the west coast. In a sense I was this random satellite office on my own. But I had just come from working with 35 people everyday. And I realized very quickly that working from my kitchen was very lonely. But from day one at MAKE, it’s like I had a built in office. I actually had office-mates. I would say it’s really the community and camaraderie.
On your website it says you are working to, “bring social awareness to issues of housing and density within the urban setting.” Could you list some of the issues associated with housing and density in the urban setting?
In San Francisco that work looks different than it does here. The big problem there is that there’s a lot of jobs, and a lot people want to live there. But there’s not a lot of land. So there are affordability issues because construction is so expensive. So we work to find innovative ways to make construction more affordable and less expensive. That could be affordability by design by making smaller units. Just innovative housing models that still provides a high quality building for a lower cost. We know that a lot of people in the country are housing burdened, meaning they spend more than a third of their income on housing.
That’s not good, it’s hard to thrive when you’re paying that much for housing. Even a place like Birmingham where people think it’s a cheap place to live, the data still shows us that people are still housing burdened. In Birmingham one of the issues has just been to raise the conversation because the conversation is not being had. In San Francisco, random people on the bus talk about these issues. But here, it’s not really the topic. But still some of our cities are experiencing an economic boom, so prices are pretty high in Birmingham and Chattanooga right now. So we realized that we can use a lot of strategies that we cooked up in San Francisco in the South East as well.
What type of work do you do for the neighborhood-serving community center in Hunter’s View?
That’s a master planned community that used to be a post WWII government developed housing project that was in disrepair and not designed well. So we had done three blocks in that neighborhood, and now we’re doing a fourth. The community center is the crown jewel of that plan, it sits right in the center and is underneath affordable family housing.
We designed that whole building all the way from looking at how it fit into the zoning of that area, we configured the building. There’s a daycare center there and a food bank as well. There’s community events and exercise spaces. We designed all of that in a pretty cost effective environment. So we had to really sharpen our pencils to get that project to work.
What is your favorite project you've ever worked on?
Hmm, that’s tough. You know, I like most everything I work on. One of my favorite things is Potrero 1010 because I worked on it from the first year I was in office from 2006 and it just finished last year. It’s also a great example of a public private partnership since there’s a public park that a private developer maintains. It’s also a mixed income building so you have people making like, 30% of what the average San Franciscan makes living in that building.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Well, it never gets old to see something that I’ve drawn, and designed, and dreamed come to reality. I cry at probably every project grand opening just because of the stories of people that were living in their car. It gets me every single time. Even if it’s like, a coffee shop. That feeling never gets old.