3600 Spenard Plaza

Organization and community: Cook Inlet Housing Authority (Anchorage, AK)

3600 Spenard is a three-story building, with retail space on the first floor and 33 one-bedroom units on the upper floors. In 2016, Cook Inlet Housing Authority issued a call for artists to “advance the design of a small plaza as a permanent enhancement” in front of the development project. They provided: guidelines for working with artists; project details and the building architect’s plans; and very detailed guidance for artists on the purpose, functionality, and design of the plaza. It was a learning experience for the organization — one artist responded that they were invited too late in the process, after the planning and permitting for the building were already underway. If the artist had been engaged at an earlier stage, they would have suggested reorienting the plaza in relationship to the surrounding landscape, because the architect had oriented it toward being able to look at the building rather than the surrounding mountains. Ultimately, the organization did not work with any of the respondents to this particular call, but the questions allowed them to rethink their approach. 

Instead, they decided to collaborate with Holly Nordlum, a local Alaska Native artist, who designed a storyboard at the site about the Dena’ina story of the Salmon Boy, where a young boy turns into a salmon because he did not respect the salmon that he ate. Another local artist, Chad Taylor, designed fish wei-inspired benches to accompany the storyboard. The Alaska Native story and art enabled Cook Inlet Housing Authority to honor the site’s history and the Dena’ina people in their community. The 3600 Spenard development project received a 2018 Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing from the Journal of Housing and Community Development.