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Work-Life | Get to Know Quinlan J. McFadden

By February 10, 2023February 23rd, 2023No Comments

Get to Know Quinlan J. McFadden

Quinlan (Quinn) J. McFadden, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumni, is an emerging leader and architect in our Denver office. He brings energy to our team with enthusiasm for solving problems through architecture and design. Driven by a passion for finding solutions to the complex issue of attainable housing, Quinn centered his graduate thesis on developing a series of prototypes, which eventually evolved into a book. At Holland Basham Architects, we appreciate his thoughtfulness on the subject and look forward to how he will incorporate his concepts into our housing client’s projects. We are proud to celebrate his accomplishments as a graduate student and support him through his work in our Denver office.

We spent some time with Quinn to uncover more of his thoughts as we dive into some of the topics in his book, Prototyping Attainability: A Guide to Attainable, Urban, In-Fill Housing Solutions. We hope this will spur great conversations amongst our community partners who share a similar drive to improve attainable housing in our cities.


Holland Basham: When did your awareness peak for attainable housing?

Quinn: I knew affordable housing was a big issue before pursuing architecture as a career through volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and NeighborWorks. It wasn’t until I took a studio course with Douglass Professor of Architecture Jeff Day, FAIA, that focused on creating new approaches to attainable housing solutions that I discovered that I have a passion for finding solutions to the complex problem of attainable housing. Throughout the studio, I was encouraged to look at how affordable housing impacts all income ratios and backgrounds and what aspects of a home are essential in creating a high quality of life.


Holland Basham: Attainability versus Affordability, can you define these and how they differ?

Quinn: First, it is essential to understand Area Median Income (AMI), the driving factor behind these two terms. Defined as the midpoint of a region’s income distribution, half of the families in the area earning more than the median, and the other half earn less than the median. Regarding housing policy, the AMI changes based on geographical location, causing affordable housing definitions to vary based on the income thresholds set by HUD relative to the area. In Lincoln, Nebraska, affordable housing is classified by those who fall between 50 and 80 percent of the AMI5. On the other hand, attainable housing does not have a universal definition. Still, it can be considered unsubsidized market housing affordable to households with incomes between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income.


Holland Basham: In your book, page 17 quotes, “Families are paying more than 30% of their income for housing and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.” What types of housing should we be incorporating more into our neighborhoods to avoid these challenges?

Quinn: As a baseline, no one should be paying for housing that is more than 30% of their income. The US is between two and six million short on homes, depending on who you ask. For home affordability to increase, we need more housing. There needs to be an influx and increase of urban filling and a focus on putting something on the table we haven’t thought about before. Developers and architects have tried creating solutions from small, valued-housing homes to high-density detached homes, but we still need more ideas and solutions.

Holland Basham: One of the strategies to create more attainable housing is through an approach called the Urban Density Activator (UDA), which can allow individuals who are interested in buying a home to purchase something within their means. Can you explain a little more about this practice and how future home buyers can be influenced positively by this?

Quinn: The UDA is both a creative play on words and a rethinking of how we approach incremental density within neighborhoods. An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is usually a smaller second structure built onto a property used for extra space for single-family homes. Instead, the UDA becomes the first structure to be built on a property, allowing individuals or starting families to gain land ownership and grow into it as their family and needs grow. Over time, a house could be built on the remaining land, and the UDA can utilize additional living spaces or revenue for that family.

Holland Basham: You evaluated the community’s needs before the design process. Describe your approach and what you learned from this process.

Quinn: Before writing the book, I worked on a project with NeighborWorks Lincoln that introduced me to their community and the individuals they serve. This involvement allowed my project team to learn what aspects communities needed and valued in their homes. We could design around our discovery of the services required within neighborhoods.


Holland Basham: What key elements and factors did you focus on for designing the prototypes?

Quinn: One of the most significant cost factors in housing is the cost of land, which is why all of these prototypes explore maximizing units on lots without taking away from the overall characteristics of the neighborhood. Other key factors were optimizing the home’s interior space and creating simple but iconic architecture that supports a high quality of life without taking up unnecessary space. Finally, the last major element was site circulation and challenging the idea of how we think of a typical neighborhood by prioritizing pedestrians and increasing communal amenities like yard space, gardens, and gathering areas.


Holland Basham: Your book predominantly focuses on Lincoln, Nebraska, but the topic is relatable to other major cities. Do you agree with that?

Quinn: I do! The framework is based on the Lincoln area to provide a set of design parameters. Still, many aspects of the prototypes, such as zoning laws, the standard 150′ x 50′ lot size, and allowed density standards, are not unique to Lincoln and can be found across the country in communities big and small.

Holland Basham: Who do you hope will read your book, or who is the target audience?

Quinn: This book is for everyone and anyone who is interested in learning more about what attainable and affordable housing can look like in their communities. Everything in this book is broken down into simple terms and explanations, allowing readers to explore these topics without prior knowledge of architecture, housing, or zoning. I wrote this book to help shed light on the issues around the attainable housing crisis and provide ideas to spark the conversation of attainable housing solutions within communities.

Quinlan McFadden will be one of the speakers at the ACSA 111th Annual Meeting and the AIA Intersections Research Conference. His book can be purchased at Prototyping Attainability by Quinlan J. McFadden | Blurb Books

Questions or want to get in touch with Quinlan? Send an email to