Affordable Infill Housing  

New York City, NY

Program: Affordable Housing on Irregular Odd Lots
Area: 1000 to 4000 sf
Status: Design 2019
Big Ideas for Small Lots Design Competition

Small, irregular lots make the creation of affordable housing for a diverse array of families a challenge, demanding that an awkward site yield a rational solution.  The underlying assumptions of our submission were that the solution be 1) affordable; 2) replicable; 3) legal, in terms of all laws and codes; and finally, 4) livable. The first three would seem to need little elaboration, but the last was a concern absent from the winning entries. It was striking that none of the finalists seemed at all concerned with the possibility that a family, as opposed to childless, single, young adults, might need to inhabit such a space. 

Beginning with the basic light and air requirements for habitable space in the narrow Subject Lot, our design solution proposed the maximum number of bedrooms and thereby opens these homes to the widest segment of the population. The small compact urban homes of an exemplary model of affordable housing: Sunnyside Gardens in Queens became the precedent used for the design of the plan and section of the row house.  While the winning schemes promoted an excessive amount of open shared living spaces, such as entire interior floor plates and unused central interior courts, our massing and unit mix maximized living space for affordable housing respecting the privacy of a wide range of inhabitants: basement accessible studio apartment, one thru floor apartment, and then two back to back duplex houses inspired by the typical Sunnyside Gardens row house. Our solution then resolved the stated premise that the solution must be applicable to a wide variety of the more irregular sites found primarily in the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island.   We embraced the challenge of re-configuring our prototypical core elements within the zoning constraints across a diverse array of lots – making our solution adaptable and more affordable over the scope of 23 lots.  Unfortunately, a typical rectangular row house type with excessive “shared” wasted space became the focus of the competition, making the winning solutions cost prohibitive as well as emphasizing non-contextual narrow facade solutions. Affordable housing should quietly work within the context and neighborhood without calling attention to itself with cold facades like a housing project. 

Sunnyside Gardens was planned to provide quality homes for families of modest means, and that spirit animated our process.