Low-Income Residents Contribute to NYC Greening

Event: Powerhouse: New Housing New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.09.07
Speakers: Winning Team Members: Richard Dattner, FAIA — Dattner Architects; Vincent Chang, AIA — Grimshaw; Honorable Mention Team Members: David Cook, RIBA — Behnisch Architekten; Markus Dochantschi — StudioMDA
Moderators: David Burney, AIA — Commissioner, NYC Department of Design & Construction (DDC); Commissioner Shaun Donovan — NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)
Organizers: AIA NY Chapter; New Housing New York Steering Committee; NYC Department of Housing preservation and Development; additional support by AIANY Housing Committee
Sponsors: National Endowment for the Arts; Enterprise Community Partners

NHNY Winning and Honorable Mention Entries

The New Housing New York winning and honorable mention entries: Phipps Rose Dattner Grimshaw (left), SEG + BEHNISCH + MDA (right).

Courtesy AIANY

Architecture should go beyond building and incorporate social theory. This is why architecture competitions must be based in reality, argues David Burney, AIA, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design & Construction (DDC). The New Housing New York competition, NYC’s first juried design competition for affordable, sustainable housing in the Bronx, proves this theory. The winning entry, “Via Verde,” is a practical, economically viable yet innovative solution to the affordable housing issue. The honorable mention’s entry incorporates a new idea of standard living to social housing based on a common European model.

“You can’t sustain a city without affordable housing,” stated Vincent Chang, RIBA, AIA, principal of Grimshaw and member of the winning design team, Phipps Rose Dattner Grimshaw (Dattner Architects/Grimshaw). With Via Verde (or Green Way), his team is attempting to reconcile diversity and social equity by creating a connection to nature. With a central courtyard and a series of terraced green roofs, every resident will have access to green space, varying in program from a farmer’s market and playground at street level to a grassy area with benches for lounging above.

Via Verde is the first affordable housing project to combine building typologies. The green terraces are possible because the buildings graduate in scale from low- to mid- to high-rise units. With a narrow site, the thin floor plans allow for maximized cross-ventilation and daylight in every apartment. To ensure and encourage safety, there is one focal entrance intended to act as a social gathering place, and all of the grounds will be attended 24-hours-a-day. “It’s not architecture; it’s, in fact, a process,” said Richard Dattner, FAIA, of his team’s goal to freshen the affordable housing process at a governmental level. “Europe calls it social housing, not affordable housing.” NYC needs to change its perspective.

Environmental, social, and physical sustainability guided the honorable mention team’s entry. Because the proposal was the least dense of the entries, team SEG+BEHNISCH+MDA (Behnish Architekten/studioMDA) became the most fiercely debated entry among the jury, stated Shaun Donovan, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The team ran a series tests to find a massing that would achieve the maximum amount of ventilation possibilities. With only five towers — the tallest is 13 stories — the project would not appear oppressive in the neighborhood, explained David Cook, RIBA, principal of Behnisch Architekten.

Simplicity was key to sustainability in the SEG+BEHNISCH+MDA design. By incorporating air-driven systems, taking advantage of thermal mass properties, and strategically locating porous elements in each elevation, the team limited the need for mechanical equipment. Giving tenants as much control over their apartments’ environments, and minimizing the number of apartments around each core, the team tried to create a sense of ownership.

NYC has a sense of urgency to produce sustainable and affordable housing, stated Chang, but how will the buildings perform once they are in use? Cook pointed out that architects enable an environment by building responsible structures, but it is up to the inhabitants to improve their own lives. If residents enjoy their living situation, countered Chang, they will take care of maintaining it. An audience-member reinforced this by describing a recycling program recently launched in her affordable housing complex. Taking part in a citywide scheme to improve the environment empowers residents. They want to give back to the city and feel that they are helping — not hindering — the city’s progress. Another similar competition scheduled for the end of this year promises progress.

Powerhouse: New Housing New York is on view at the Center for Architecture through 06.16.07. See On View: At the Center for Architecture for more information.