A Role Model for New York City’s Affordable Housing

SugarHill_Aerial_looking_west_trimmedArchitectural Record | February 14, 2013
By Ronda Kaysen

An urban farm on the rooftop of a David Adjaye–designed affordable-housing project in Harlem will provide fresh produce and income for the building sometime after construction has been completed in December. An $80 million development in the historic New York City neighborhood, Sugar Hill Housing will offer 124 units of rental housing for low-income adults and families. Adjaye’s stepped-profile design, with a rose-embossed, textured precast-concrete facade, makes it the latest example in a trend to replace bland institutional architecture typical of affordable housing with creative and striking design.

The rooftop farm, along with plans for a farmers’ market in the entrance plaza, provides another example of affordable housing’s potential to improve quality of life for neighborhoods. Students at Columbia University are devising a business plan for the 3,500-square-foot farm. Broadway Housing, the nonprofit developer, hopes to model the farm after others like Brooklyn Grange, which operates 2½ acres of farmland on buildings in Queens and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“There’s been a lot of attention given to luxury and middle-income housing, but there hasn’t been a discussion about affordable housing in New York,” says Adjaye. “It was a subject that architects needed to rethink now, so that we can contribute in a meaningful way.”

Innovative affordable housing is on the rise in New York City, starting with Via Verde, a complex designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects that opened in the Bronx last year. In January, the city tapped nARCHITECTS for a prefabricated tower of micro-unit apartments in Manhattan, 40 percent of which will be for low- and middle-income residents.

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