Gay Housing Project Slated for Palm Springs


gay housingMatthias Hollwich has big plans to build an innovative gay housing development for seniors in Palm Springs, Calif., called BOOM. The 40-year-old New York architect is the ringleader of what FastCompany magazine's design blog is calling -- with some understatement -- "a wacky, $250m old folks' community for gays."

As the gay housing market mushroomed over the last decade, developers jumped on the bandwagon by hyping LGBT-oriented retirement communities. But most -- including Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove Lodge, Oregon's Rainbow Vista, and a facility in Boston's Fenway neighborhood -- tanked before laying a brick.

Will BOOM be a bust? "Most other developments just focused on quick sales," Hollwich says. "We don't. We will also have a 10-city tour where we invite people to come to workshops, work with us on the reinvention of architecture and community. Once we have a critical mass and shaped the concept of BOOM towards the needs of the future residences, then it will be for sale....It will be a big success, for the people who will live there and beyond."

BOOM is a "master-planned community,...pedestrian-oriented, culture-driven, designed to inspire residents to better themselves," according to the
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project's website. Along with Hollwich's firm, HWKN, the 100-plus acre site will feature boundary-breaking buildings by the glossy likes of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, LOT-EK, L2, Surfacedesign, and Arakawa + Gins (see computer renderings below).

Plazas and pathways will link 300 homes to an entertainment complex, with restaurants and stores, a boutique hotel, a gym with spa, and wellness facilities.

What the site doesn't mention is sexual orientation. But Hollwich himself waxes enthusiastic about FastCompany's sobriquet for BOOM as "a theme park for gay retirees."

"Yes!" he wrote in an e-mail. "We aim for a 40+ development that is inspired by the LGBT community, but open for all....At BOOM we gave the architects full freedom to unfold their creativity -- and what we got is a survey of today's most contemporary architectural thinking. We intentionally did not want to create one common language, since BOOM is all about diversity."

gay housingDoes architecture for older gay people differ substantively from design for hetero seniors? Certainly in execution, says Hollwich, who runs a program in aging and design at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Fighting age discrimination through architecture is the same for the LGBT community and everyone else - however, designing for the LGBT community differs in programming (all master bedrooms for the LGBT community, different socializing programs, different idea of the extended family)," he wrote. "The one point that I might want to speculate is that the LGBT community is more open for progressive design -- so this is where the power of architecture can truly unfold its potential."

On a more sobering note, the New York Times in 2007 reported that LGBT seniors face homophobia, isolation, and even abuse.

While BOOM's price structure has not been firmed up, Hollwich says the project "will have a full range of [home] sizes -- from studios to 4-bedroom houses. We aim to make it affordable for all kind of income levels. since the concept of BOOM is about integration on every level."

BOOM will break ground in 2012, Architizer says, starting with 300 residences built in eight neighborhoods, each designed by a different firm. Phase 2 of the project will add another 300 residences.





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