The back-and-forth movement of materials, people, and ideas across the United States–Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana has long been an important focus of Teddy Cruz’s practice. In 2001 Cruz began working with the community-based nongovernmental organization Casa Familiar to develop a pilot housing project for an area of San Ysidro, an American city just north of the border. According to Casa Familiar—which advocates for and assists the marginal community in such areas as immigration services, education, and job placement—some two-thirds of San Ysidro’s homes are multifamily; the median income for residents is sixty percent lower than it is in the rest of San Diego County. In addition to providing a new type of affordable housing, the team sought to stimulate political, economic, and social transformation.
Having studied a variety of ad hoc uses of land in this formerly homogenous suburban area, Cruz aimed to create a complex system of housing, with integrated shared space that would acknowledge and exploit the dense, multiuse, and often illegal development that is standard there. This decade-long undertaking has resulted in the incorporation of alternative zoning categories in San Ysidro, appropriate to the city’s density and its citizens’ income levels, as well as designs for two small-scale projects to be constructed on abandoned or underutilized lots beginning in 2011: Living Rooms at the Border and Senior Housing with Childcare. Connected by pedestrian alleyways, the two projects will integrate affordable apartments with community centers and highly flexible multiuse indoor and outdoor spaces. In a radically pragmatic and integrative approach to architecture, Cruz has sought to understand the fabric of the neighborhood and create projects that institutionalize it.