The CCA explores the meaning of living without a home in a documentary short film

What It Takes to Make a Home, a documentary short film by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) considers the questions of how architects might address the intractable urban reality of homelessness, and the meaning of living without a reliable home.

Still from What It Takes to Make a Home, 2019. © CCA

Rather than survey attempts at architectural solutions to homelessness and housing insecurity, the documentary presents the attitudes of two architects whose work directly engages these issues: Michael Maltzan, based in Los Angeles, whose observation above appears in the film’s opening sequence; and Alexander Hagner, based in Vienna, a city with a traditionally strong social housing system currently tested by changes in its population.

The film interweaves a conversation between Hagner and Maltzan with the perspectives of individuals affected by homelessness, who are given space to convey their everyday challenges and larger experiences.

“At its core, this documentary is about really hearing from the people who have experienced—and who are experiencing—homelessness firsthand,” says CCA Director Giovanna Borasi.
Directed by Daniel Schwartz, the documentary begins to unpack the complexities of homelessness taking both familiar and unexpected forms, demanding responses that take into account not only human spatial requirements but also emotional needs.

While pointing to the lack of affordable housing globally, the film asks what role architecture can have in destigmatizing the experience of housing insecurity and establishing what a home might be.

For Hagner, creating architecture for only a particular segment of society emphasizes difference and reinforces stigmatization. His VinziRast-mittendrin housing project in Vienna intentionally blends into the urban fabric and provides a prototype for a new form of community, where students and individuals formerly without homes live together.

“Although architects will not be able to solve the complex reality of homelessness, they can help to frame life on different scales, supporting communities as well as individuals,” says Hagner.

Maltzan, on the other hand, believes that distinctive architecture has the capacity to bring value to spaces designed for vulnerable individuals. Star Apartments, a mixed-use complex featured in the film that provides 102 apartments for inhabitants who previously did not have dependable shelter, is one of several projects he has realized with Los Angeles’s Skid Row Housing Trust.

What It Takes to Make a Home is the first documentary film in a three-part CCA exploration of intersecting conditions—loneliness, migration, segregation, and ageing, among others—that are reconfiguring cities in the twenty-first century.

The second and third films of the series will continue examining the ways in which changing societies, new economic pressures, and increasing population density have begun to reshape collective life in multiple contexts worldwide.

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