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Humans of the U: Kateryna Malaia

Kateryna Malaia stands in Kyiv, looking over residential neighborhoods.

“I study housing under pressure. In particular, I’m interested in what happened to housing when the Soviet Union fell apart and how people modified their homes to adjust to this new socioeconomic reality. I’m originally from Ukraine, so that’s where my interest comes from. I also study housing insecurity in the U.S. and how that affects the way people live their lives: What does it mean to live in subpar rental housing? What does it mean to be a homeowner but be under economic pressure to somehow offset your mortgage by modifying your house, such as by splitting it into two units or building an accessory dwelling unit?

I was drawn to study housing for a variety of reasons. When I was still a designer in Ukraine, I worked in firms during a construction boom, when a lot of new housing was being built. Not all of this new housing was great or better than what already existed. I started wondering how designers approached new and existing housing, whether those apartments were truly comfortable, how residents would change them to fit their needs, and how was this new housing going to age and perform in 30 or 40 years?

Malaia visits the Budova prefabricated concrete facility in Odesa with Philipp Meuser in 2022.

Later on, I started my PhD in architecture. I focused on culture and built landscapes and interactions between people and space and built forms. It was during my grad school years when I realized that housing allowed me to really speak about the history of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European states. Through residential architecture, I could explore and explain what happened in people’s everyday lives during interesting historic moments. 

I’m an architectural historian, primarily. What I am most interested in and what I want to help my students do is to think about the consequences of design actions.  For example, in the United States, the trend is that housing becomes more affordable as it ages. Right now, you may have a new apartment complex that’s all fancy and young professionals with nice jobs are living there. But the reality is that in 40 years, it might be families who may have slightly lower incomes living there. If we build well, in 40 years, those families are going to have decent places to live.

Malaia visits the Astra Tower construction site with students in Salt Lake City in 2023.

In the United States, big problems like homelessness or housing insecurity can be addressed with architectural tools in addition to policies. For me, that’s the biggest joy—trying to find these architectural solutions to really big issues and to experiment with them with my students.”

 — Kateryna Malaia, a new faculty member in the College of Architecture + Planning