Architects Vie to Green South Bronx

The Grimshaw team wins the competition to build sustainable, working class housing in this notorious section of New York City

An oddly shaped, 60,000-square-foot empty lot in the South Bronx, New York, recently attracted a shortlist of some renowned names in architecture and green building: Grimshaw Architects, Behnisch Architekten, Cook + Fox, Rogers Marvel, Kiss + Cathcart. And when a 202-apartment complex is completed on the site, the project—named Via Verde—may just set a new standard for affordable housing.

This humble spot at Brook Avenue and 156th Street was the subject of New Housing New York, the city’s first juried design competition for affordable and sustainable housing and a component of Mayor Bloomberg’s wide-reaching New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Urban Development (HPD), which is spearheading the Marketplace Plan, and the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects were among the collaborators who helped realize the competition. On January 17 they announced that Grimshaw, whose team includes Dattner Architects and developers Phipps Houses Group and The Jonathan Rose Companies, would develop the site.

The winning proposal sets a high standard for sustainable, imaginatively designed working-class housing. In addition to 202 residential units, the Via Verde complex will feature retail shops, community space, and parking spread throughout an 18-story tower, a mid-rise building, and townhouses. The buildings will be linked by street-level gardens devoted to fruit and vegetable farming and passive recreation, as well as by a series of south-facing terrace gardens that are terraced into the volumes. The greenery culminates in a series of green roofs that enhance insulation, help harvest rainwater, and reduce heat transfer—and helping the design earn a LEED Gold rating.

Via Verde will include 63 co-op units; the remainder will be rental. Household incomes will be capped at 130 percent of the median income for New York City, and one block of rental apartments is designated for households earning less than 40 percent of that figure. The city will turn the site over to the development team for $1 and groundbreaking is set for mid-2008.

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