Last week’s opening of Via Verde, the affordable housing development in the Bronx, was both historic and historical: historic because the project is widely viewed as a triumph of affordable housing over tremendous adversity, historical because the project is a clear propagation of New York’s rich social housing bloodlines.
We toured the complex with Shaun Donovan, Hon. AIANY, the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and former Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Traipsing up exterior metal steps between green roofs, snapping photos in one of the model apartments, Donovan chatted with the projects’ developers Adam Weinstein of Phipps Houses, and Jonathan Rose of his eponymous firm. The plantings were designed by Lee Weintraub, FASLA, who walked through the roof terraces with an enthusiastic Mayor Bloomberg. Richard Dattner, FAIA, along with Vincent Chang, AIA, and Robert Garneau, AIA, of Grimshaw, occasionally stood back and viewed the project with what seemed to be the silent approval reserved for one’s most gifted child.
Cross ventilation, that age-old feature of model tenements and towers in the park, is back. We’re no longer afraid of slum-grown tuberculosis, but each unit’s excellent exposures to light and air are still the antiseptic for the woes of the Bronx, of the low- and middle-income, of the gentrified, of everyone trying to keep a foothold in New York City. Many units have city views, seemingly durable finishes, and access to rooftop vegetable gardens, a fitness center, and a Montefiore-run health clinic.
The basic form – a tower paired with low-rise units – isn’t novel. In fact, the project abuts the similarly-composed Bronxchester Houses, a classic NYCHA 1978 face-brick-with-exposed-concrete-slab affair. But the typology’s execution at Via Verde is clearly much better and looks fresher – almost market-rate Manhattan.
A cool breeze blew through the white tent set up in the courtyard, the venue for remarks by Mayor Bloomberg, Secretary Donovan, Borough President Diaz and our own Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY’s Executive Director. Via Verde is the direct result of a design-build competition organized by AIANY, HPD and a citizens’ Steering Committee led by Lance Jay Brown, FAIA. Yes, an AIA Legacy project – with past-president Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, as designated project “champion” – can lead to construction of sustainable, affordable housing in the South Bronx.
As it stands, Via Verde has been as well-provisioned for a journey into the future – and congruently into history – as anyone could hope.