The Opposite of Big Lots!

New York City and the AIA team up for a vacant lots competition

Architecture East News Professional Practice
113 West 136th Street in East Harlem. Competitors will have to design affordable housing infill for the 17-foot-wide lot. (Courtesy Google Maps)
113 West 136th Street in East Harlem. Competitors will have to design affordable housing infill for the 17-foot-wide lot. (Courtesy Google Maps)

New York’s five boroughs are plagued with vacant lots, even as the city finds itself in a housing crisis. Architects and planners have explored potential solutions like modular construction and basement units, and now the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the AIANY are trying to recruit architects to design sensitive infill housing.

Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC is soliciting design proposals for scalable solutions across 23 vacant lots around the city. The design competition is just one piece of the de Blasio administration’s Housing New York 2.0 plan, which aims to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026.

For the project’s first phase, competitors have until March 24 to submit their proposals for a 17-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep vacant plot at 113 West 136th Street in East Harlem. Teams that submit the best-realized drawings and project narratives will be given a $3,000 stipend, have their materials exhibited at the Center for Architecture, and will be invited back for the competition’s second phase. Immediately after the finalists are chosen, HPD will assign the remaining teams different lots to develop proposals for, and the most promising may be built.

New York currently has 1,023 acres of vacant public land across 1,367 lots citywide, according to Living Lots NYC, and many of them have sat unused for decades. A holistic solution is hard to come by, as some of the lots are as narrow as 13-feet-wide and others are nearly 10,000 square feet. Although the city hasn’t exactly defined what “affordable” means for these lots, the New York Times noted that HPD is shooting for two-to-three family homes and may include below-market-rate rents.

The nine-person Big Ideas jury reads like a who’s-who of New York–based architects and city officials:

Jury Chair: Hayes Slade, AIA, IIDA, president, AIA New York and principal, Slade Architecture
Deborah Berke, FAIA, LEED AP, dean, Yale School of Architecture and founder, Deborah Berke Partners
Claudia Herasme, chief urban designer, NYC Department of City Planning
Nick Lembo, chairman, Monadnock Construction, Inc.
Ruchika Modi, studio director and associate partner, Practice for Architecture & Urbanism
Justin Garrett Moore, AICP, executive director, NYC Public Design Commission
AJ Pires, president, Alloy Development
Katherine W. Swenson, vice president of design, Enterprise Community Partners
Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal, WXY architecture + urban design

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