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Cataloging Detroit over 25 years, Camilo Jose Vergara has documented the city’s decline and decay
Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis wins commission to design new arts center in Telluride, Colorado
Historic Foreman & Clark in Downtown Los Angeles to become apartments
New York Values
NYCHA’s new guidelines for rehabilitation of public housing push for sustainability and preservation
Who knew the launch of a document about putting new rooftops on old buildings, raising boilers above flood levels, and updating kitchens and bathrooms in municipal housing would be the East Coast elite’s hottest ticket in town? The release of New York City Public Housing Authority’s Design Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Residential Buildings had to turn away dozens of attendees to its January 12th panel packing three stories at the AIA’s Center for Architecture.
Part of the reason for the overflow crowd may be the sheer number of partners, collaborators, and offices involved. Led by the agency’s Office of Design, the Design Guidelines implicated its Capital Projects and Energy & Sustainability divisions, affordable housing developer Enterprise Community Partners (ECP), the AIA’s Design for Aging and Housing Committees, participants in NYCHA’s Design Excellence program, including Andrew Bernheimer, Domingo Gonzalez, and Claire Weisz, and dozens of maintenance staff members and residents.
Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow Jae Shin served as embedded coordinator of many of these conversations within the agency and co-edited the guidelines. “She really helped facilitate a lot of the internal discussions that we had with our various groups at NYCHA as well as external partners,” said Bruce Eisenberg, deputy director of NYCHA’s Office of Design, who spearheaded the project. “We really wanted to make it a very interactive process.”
Produced in collaboration with ECP and supported by a $100,000 grant from Deutsche Bank, the Design Guidelines belong to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year agenda to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of America’s largest and most successful public housing agency.
“This will impact all of our capital projects,” Eisenberg said. “We have a five-year plan of scheduled projects, and so we really wanted to raise the bar of design in how we execute them. This is a roadmap to enable us to do that.” It has implications for a vast and practically unending scope of work. If fully funded, renovation of NYCHA projects, which comprise 2,500 acres in 328 complexes containing 125,000 units and serving more than 400,000 residents, would require $17 billion in current capital costs. Allocations over the next three years amount to $784.4 million from the city’s budget.
In some parts, the Design Guidelines formalize the standards employed in recent capital projects, such as the exterior lighting installed at Castle Hill and Butler Houses in the Bronx, which replaces the dim yellow light of old with nearly 1,000 bright and energy-efficient LED fixtures to improve public safety. In other outdoor areas, the guidelines aim to reduce metal fencing around grass and add amenities to create more active and healthy spaces. They take cues from the guidelines set forth by the Center For Active Design, while encouraging visual sight lines. In-progress projects like KPF and Olin’s landscapes for Red Hook Houses—funded as part of the post-Sandy $3 billion FEMA recovery grant—indicate a High Line–like attention to detail.
“We’re starting to be more aspirational in that area,” Eisenberg said. “We’re looking to make our open spaces more attractive and useful to our residents and the community at large.”
NYCHA’s push toward environmental sustainability nudges projects to install subsurface infiltration systems, sidewalk bioswales, and porous pavers rather than asphalt to limit stormwater overflow and heat sinks. Pilot projects in Bronx River Houses, Hope Gardens, and Seth Low Houses will slow stormwater, while the Edenwald Houses in the Bronx will contain the city’s largest green infrastructure installation. For other areas vulnerable to stormwater rise, the guidelines recommend concrete retaining walls to double as seating, like the floodwalls as wood-clad benches by Nelligan White Architects in Baruch Houses below the Williamsburg Bridge.
At Sotomayor Houses, NYCHA will begin installing the new standards for kitchens and bathrooms later this year, expanding cabinet space and adding accessible grab bars and sinks. That is, after the roofing is done: Mayor de Blasio has dedicated $100 million annually to roofs alone for the next two years, recently supplemented by another $1 billion over 10 years. Upgrading the troublesome low- or no-slope roofs of its modern-era buildings is NYCHA’s biggest capital projects burden.
The Design Guidelines’ release landed on the same day as nomination hearings for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, adding a collective spirit of defiance to talk of preserving the country’s largest public housing agency. The De Blasio administration vows to press on, regardless of the new administration’s priorities, which appear to involve gutting all federal agencies the President’s cronies cannot use for profiteering.
“We have a 10-year strategic plan NextGeneration NYCHA that’s not a kitchen sink plan; it’s very specific, and we’re moving forward,” said Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, director of NYCHA’s Office for Public/Private Partnerships and president of newly formed Fund for Public Housing nonprofit, which coordinated privatesector grants for the guidelines. “We don’t know what the policy priorities will be, but we know what New Yorkers’ priorities are, so we are moving forward with that plan, because it’s the best investment in public housing in New York City.”
Architects aren’t happy with plans to remodel this Manhattan park
Starr serves on Manhattan Community Board 1 (CB1), which met earlier this month to discuss the proposal, the latest in a series of public meetings that commenced in April 2016. (According to a BPCA spokesperson, her firm, Starr Whitehouse bid unsuccessfully on the Wagner Park redesign.)*CB1, for its part, wants more information. Although it affirmed its pledge to work with BPCA on the plans, CB 1’s Battery Park City Committee believed the expansive character of Wagner Park should be preserved. It expressed concern over the expanded commercial space, especially given the abundant retail options on Pier A. Its resolution states that "it has not been made clear to members of the Committee why the existing structure, which was built in 1994, must be replaced by a new building or why the new building is necessary." The original architect, too, is less than thrilled with the proposal. “The design premise is an insult to the Statue of Liberty,” said Rodolfo Machado, founding principal of Machado Silvetti. “This project seems totally non-site-specific; the symbolic content of the park is completely lost. It’s very banal.” He had not heard about the BPCA proposal until AN reached out for comment last week. Perkins Eastman principal Stan Eckstut maintained that Machado Silvetti’s design is sound, but added that the pavilion was not constructed for the restaurant that today occupies its ground floor. Water, though, has seeped through the bricks and built up inside the walls, causing deterioration. There’s also not enough space for maintenance operations, so the BPCA wants to add 1,800 square feet of space for maintenance, bringing the total to 4,300 square feet. The project's budget has yet to be finalized, but it's estimated it will cost tens of millions of dollars. The next step, BPCA officials said, is engineering and design, which includes the development of an RFP for a more detailed program that is set to come out within the next 90 days. Though this plan affects only a sliver of New York’s 520 miles of coastline, the rebuild-and-replace approach raises larger questions about the future of climate change design in New York City. At Machado’s suggestion, AN reached out to architects for comment on the proposed changes to Wagner Park and the future of resilient landscapes in New York. We’ll update readers as more comments come online. Nader Tehrani, founding principal of NADAAA and dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union:
[It’s] unfortunate that there is a move to demolish these pavilions and replace them with structures that do not acknowledge the colossal scale at which pavilions would need to operate in relation to the NYC skyline, nor acknowledge the critical urbanistic connections to the Statue of Liberty…or the other more nuanced connections within Battery Park City. It might be that these pavilions, like many other structures and landscapes on the edge of Manhattan, would need to be revisited in terms of resilience, and their ability to absorb the cyclical fluctuations of a piece of infrastructure. But to deny them of the critical urbanistic function they offer is to deny NYC some of its paradigmatic qualities. At the end, rising tides will become a consistent challenge in the coming years. If at every turn, the alibi of impending doom is adopted as the basis for the demolition of critical values that make up the discipline of urbanism, then we will end up with a series of barriers (both physical and cultural) that deny us of engaging the very reasons we build urban cultures.Toshiko Mori, founding principal, Toshiko Mori Architect:
I think the park has become a type of fixture in our downtown life. The design is a bit idiosyncratic but it is very well-detailed and there is something very endearing about the structure which takes into account multiple scales of elements occurring on the site from high rises downtown to the view of the harbor to the experience of park at human scale. In particular, the front esplanade is an excellent design, it makes for a beautiful transition from the building to the lawn. Its gentle arc and steps and stone details help negotiate this important edge in a very graceful manner. Isn't it possible to leave it as is and let it flood like they do in Venice? Or take care of flooding issue in a less obtrusive manner?Zack McKown, founding principal of Tsao & McKown:
I would like to know more, especially regarding alternative ways of dealing with sea level rise that could preserve the Wagner Park structure by Machado Silvetti. Their design enhances an urban place that offers uniquely strong visual connections to the Statue of Liberty. They employed a powerful and erudite architectural vocabulary that elevates one's appreciation for an appropriately monumental civic celebration and at the same time delightfully challenges one to ponder its mysterious formal origins.The project that is being proposed has no comparable ennobling or engaging qualities that I can see from these drawings.
Simple in Seattle
In a Seattle neighborhood of traditional family homes, Heliotrope Architects create a modern abode using local materials
In a hip and funky part of Capitol Hill—Seattle’s answer to Brooklyn—sits one new home that is unlike the others. Amid the surrounding sea of bungalow and cottage-style homes is a new residence designed by Seattle and-Portland-based Heliotrope Architects. With its stained-cedar facade and abstract gable roof, it is contemporary yet quietly different, its boldness found in soft details, a monochromatic color palette, and honest materials.
An engineer and an artist—the former an online-retailer employee and the latter a graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—initially reached out to Heliotrope for the project. The couple had big plans to create a home on an empty mid-block lot (the former cottage-style home on the lot was razed) that could house a shared art studio space and feel airy, light, and cheerful.
The interiors take inspiration from white-walled contemporary art galleries, providing a neutral backdrop to a clean, clutter-free space filled with smart furnishings and Arne Jacobsen lighting fixtures. “The approach is not indulgent,” said Heliotrope co-founder and principal Mike Mora. “It’s relatively modest.”
White-painted sheetrock adds tranquility and calmness without feeling sterile. There are Northwestern myrtlewood floors in the peripheral spaces and wood-look tile and concrete flooring (with radiant heat) in the main living areas. The kitchen features custom cabinetry and walnut butcher-block counters, and the living room has custom bookshelves, all crafted by local builder Dovetail (known for building out local Seattle eateries like Joule and Mezcaleria Oaxaca). Ample glazing and skylights bring daylight inside, valuable in a region that can have nine months of cloud cover each year.
“It’s not just a two-story box,” said Mora, explaining why they focused on keeping the house low instead of maximizing the building envelope.
There is a thoughtful balance and unity between contemporary and warm, indoor and outdoor, public and private. As Mora explained, the design relies on a checkerboard layout—a careful juxtaposition between the interior and two ground-level gardens that help distribute natural light throughout the home (there’s also a rooftop garden as well). The master suite is split between two levels: The master bedroom is on the upper floor and looks over the double-height artist studio, while the master bath downstairs includes a custom Japanese soaking tub and cedar countertops. The guest suite lies underneath the gable roof, separated from the master suite.
In the end, Heliotrope was driven by its clients’ close connection to design. “Physical objects are important to them,” said Mora. In fact, the couple is so meticulously organized that the house required just five minutes of staging before the photographer came to shoot this feature.