Aerial perspective rendering showing the original design scheme included in the RFP response. The form of the neighborhood has remained largely true to this initial vision. Source: Union Studio

Meeting 21st Century goals on a 19th Century ‘poor farm’

Veridian at County Farm is a compact neighborhood model of sustainability and affordability in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Union Studio and THRIVE Collaborative won a Merit Award as an Emerging Project in the 2024 CNU Charter Awards.

On a former county poor farm in the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, about two miles from downtown, a new sustainable neighborhood with affordable housing is under construction. Unlike most new developments, Veridian at County Farm is designed as a community that is connected to local agriculture and green space. 

Union Studio, which led the design for THRIVE Communities, explains, “Veridian is designed to be one of the first mixed-income, net-zero communities in the US, not waiting for building codes, industry standards, or funding agency requirements to catch up to the needs we face now.”

The 13.5-acre project will include 171 housing units (50 of them built by a local affordable housing developer), a 6,000-square-foot grocery store and cafe, community event space, and a 19th Century barn. The plaza in front of the barn will host weekly farmer's markets and community events.

Covered porches on every home provide weather protection while encouraging outdoor living and interaction among neighbors. Source: Union Studio

All houses face greenways or small greens and include front porches for community engagement. The architecture is plain and casual, based on a farm aesthetic. The jury found the buildings charming and the program ambitious. For such a compact site, the range of housing is impressive—including micro-units (375-400 sf), two-bedroom apartments (800 sf), townhouses (1,340 to 2100 sf), and detached houses (2,600 sf). 

The project began with an RFP issued by Washtenaw County, which owned the land. THRIVE, who saw the potential for a model sustainable and affordable community, gathered a team of national experts and consulted with local residents.“Their vision for a beautiful, socially just, and ecologically restorative community—grounded in many conversations with neighbors, future residents, and local advocates—was compelling enough to win the RFP despite offering the lowest purchase price of all six respondents,” the design team reported. The original vision (see rendering at top) is very similar to what is under construction now.

Current site plan showing the Farmstead plaza at lower right and a mix of unit types and greenspaces throughout the rest of the neighborhood. Source: Union Studio

The plan set high goals, including following the principles of International Living Future’s Living Community Challenge. According to the design team, the results include:

  • On-site solar and geothermal will produce 105 percent of the neighborhood’s energy needs, with a battery backup for each home.
  • Walkable and pedestrian-scaled infrastructure promoting non-automotive transportation.
  • Front porches open to green spaces that incorporate bio-philic public art.
  • Native landscaping for ecosystem health and stormwater treatment; 30 percent of the land will be dedicated to food production.
  • Building materials selected based on durability, reduced reliance on toxic chemicals, and lower embodied carbon.

The walkways and green spaces were designed to save original trees, offer visual anchors, and provide informal gathering and play spaces. They also connect to the adjacent County Farm Park, a major green space. All the pathways and most roadways are surfaced with permeable paving made from recycled tires.

Veridian will have home types for every stage of life, from studio flats to detached single-family homes. Source: Union Studio

The grocery store, Farm Stop, is an important asset that will attract visitors from surrounding neighborhoods. Farm Stop is a unique local group of stores that works with 200 regional producers to make local food available seven days a week. Veridian is next to a county recreational center and a bike transit corridor and is located within a half mile of a major commercial district.

The project encourages a reduced dependency on cars through reduced parking minimums and enhanced bike infrastructure, including a neighborhood bike share, and ample covered bike storage. Private parking spaces are equipped with electric vehicle chargers, and several public chargers are available. Accessibility across the site is also a priority, with fully accessible units in each multi-family building, residential elevators in the townhouses, and aging-in-place considerations throughout all units.

Veridian has impacted Ann Arbor's minimum parking requirements, sustainable building requirements, and state-wide energy policy, the design team reports. “This is a development that meets all of our community goals. It’s a development that does not have any compromise with our values and I’m incredibly excited about it moving forward,” says Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor.

Veridian is under construction and moving ahead rapidly. All horizontal infrastructure is complete, and as of early 2024, 22 residential units were under construction, with more slated to break ground in the spring. Completion is anticipated for late 2026.

Note: The Charter Awards will be presented in a ceremony on May 16 at CNU 32 in Cincinnati.

Construction as of December, 2023.

Veridian at County Farm, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Neighborhood, District, and Corridor category): 

  • Union Studio Architecture & Community DesignPrincipal firm
  • THRIVE Collaborative, Client and developer
  • MCI (Midwestern Consulting), Civil engineer
  • Insite Design Studio Inc., Landscape architect

2023 CNU Charter Awards Jury

  • Matthew Bell (chair), Professor, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Principal, Perkins Eastman in Washington, DC
  • Diane Jones Allen, Professor, College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington
  • David Baker, Principal, David Baker Architects in San Francisco, CA
  • Anne Fairfax, Principal, Fairfax & Sammons in New York, NY, and Palm Beach, FL
  • C.J. Howard, Principal, C.J. Howard Architecture in Washington, DC
  • Neal Payton, Principal, Torti Gallas + Partners in Los Angeles, CA
  • Rico Quirindongo, Director, City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development
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