The Competition is currently on hold. More information coming soon.


Breaking New Ground is an international design and ideas competition addressing the urgent affordable housing needs of farmworker and service worker families in the Coachella Valley. Efforts to improve living conditions suffer from a lack of funding and coordination. The competition seeks to address this by harnessing the power of design to envision new precedents, mechanisms, and policies for affordable housing implementation and development, with implications for California and the nation.


Economics and Demographics Located in southeastern California, the Coachella Valley is home to one of the nation’s most vital agricultural economies, generating nearly $4 billion in economic activity annually. This economy relies on both a permanent and seasonal workforce to harvest crops and work in tourism-related service sector jobs. 

However, due to a chronic shortage of affordable housing for this workforce, the region is facing an unprecedented crisis in which thousands of families and individuals are forced to live in unhealthful, substandard conditions. Poverty to this degree is found just minutes away from the affluence of resort communities like Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage. 

Despite playing central roles in the production of regional and national food supplies, the average worker’s annual income hovers between $15,000 and $30,000, falling within the US Department of Health and Human Services poverty thresholds for families. 

Living Conditions Many workers and their families live in vehicles, on streets, in parking lots and even outdoors in makeshift camps in the surrounding hills. They have little or no access to healthcare, transportation, and other supportive social services. 

This community endures conditions defined by lack of access to adequate heat, ventilation, hot water, sanitation, cooking facilities, and healthy food. In essence, they are living in the midst of constant crisis, with no resources to escape systemic poverty.

Without an alternative, many end up living in some of the 100+ unpermitted mobile home parks estimated to be in the Coachella Valley. Often located on tribal grounds and exempt from regulation, the trailers are sometimes held together by nothing more than plywood and duct tape, while residents dodge wild dogs, rats, open sewers and exposed wires. Public agency efforts to improve and formalize these parks suffers from a lack of funding and critical mass.

Response To address this urgent need, The California Endowment is sponsoring Breaking New Ground, an international design competition that seeks implementable architectural and policy solutions to re-envision the near-term housing future for this population.

Through the power of compelling design and innovative thinking the competition seeks to fundamentally change the lives of agricultural and service workers, uplifting these communities and transforming the landscape of the Coachella Valley for the betterment of all.

A revised factsheet is forthcoming. 

Competition Goals and Values

Breaking New Ground seeks implementable architectural design proposals that embody:

  • Compelling architecture
  • Affordability and market feasibility
  • Social, economic,and environmental sustainability
  • A thoughtful approach to embedded social services that foster long-term stability and upward mobility
  • Healthfulness for residents and the surrounding community
  • Critical approaches/adjustments to policies and practices with the potential to streamline the development process for affordable housing on a broader level

Organizations Involved

The California Endowment 
Primary Competition Sponsor

Lead Project Coordinator

County of Riverside
Project Site Identification and Policy Guidance

Coachella Valley Association of Governments
Policy Guidance

Pueblo Unido CDC, Inc.
Community Advisor

Marketing, Outreach, and Web Development

The Federal Reserve  
Competition Partner


More Info Soon

Competition details and requirements are subject to change until registration opens. Check back for more information soon.

Mailing List

Want to be notified when registration opens? Join our mailing list and we’ll send you the details when they become available. 

Design/Build Focus

At the competition’s conclusion The California Endowment and County of Riverside will work together to build an affordable housing project based on the winning entries. The winning team may also be selected to participate in the design and construction of the new project.

Prizes and Awards

Prizes and awards will be announced soon. 

Competition Divisions and Eligibility

Open Division

The goal of the Open Division is to produce an implementable proposal for a housing community that can and will be realized.

Individuals, firms, or teams from around the world comprised of architects and professionals from allied fields. Teams may also include students and faculty from architecture and other disciplines. 

Submission Requirements 
Participants are required to submit highly-developed, holistic architectural proposals consisting of a descriptive narrative, a financial model, regulatory framework, social services framework, and a conceptual design. 

Student Division

The goal of the Student Division is to produce comprehensive proposals that address the full scope of competition issues with a greater emphasis on creativity and less emphasis on short-term implementation.

The Student Division is open to high school or college students and faculty from around the world who are currently registered in an educational institution. Faculty may participate only as part of a student-led team.

Submission Requirements
Participants in the Student Division are required to submit two digital boards and a two-page written narrative of their proposals.

Jury and Evaluation Criteria

The jury will consist of professionals and stakeholders with expertise in affordable housing design, policy, real estate and economic development, and social justice and equity. Submissions will be evaluated based on four criteria:

Physical Design & Innovation
The creativity of the physical product and how it serves the targeted audience in the local climate setting.

Financial Design & Market Feasibility
How the design minimizes the cost of construction, operations, and maintenance while maintaining safety, comfort, and durability.

Regulatory Design
How the design tackles current regulatory constraints and/or proposes creative solutions to overcome regulatory challenges.

Social Service Design
The level of social services and/or community-serving facilities programmed as part of the project.

Registration and Entry Fee

Registration opens in October, 2014. All teams must register through the competition website: Only one registration is required per team. A packet will be provided with more details about the competition. 

Open Division
A non-refundable entry fee of $175 will apply at time of registration. All teams will receive a PDF copy of the final competition publication.

Student Division
No entry fee is required and all teams will receive a PDF copy of the final competition publication. 

Competition Process and Schedule

The competition will officially launch in October 2014. The Student Division will last one round and the Open Division will take place over two rounds.

In Round 1, competitors will be given eight weeks to complete their submission, with entries due in December 2014. The jury will convene and assess the highest scoring projects to determine four winners from the Student Division and four finalists from the Open Division. 

The finalists from the Open Division will move onto Round 2 in January 2015 with entries due toward the end of February roughly six weeks later. Finalists will conduct a live presentation and the jury will announce the winner(s) at an awards ceremony in March 2015.