Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures

‘In 2004, architects Anne Lacaton, Jean-Philippe Vassal, and Frédéric Druot authored a manifesto on the value of renovation over demolition with a powerful opening statement: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform and reuse!” Their study, PLUS, came in response to an architectural competition to replace a 1960s high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of Paris, and has become emblematic of a surging interest in refurbishing post-war high-rise and superblock housing.

‘Cities worldwide undertook major residential building programs in the mid-Twentieth Century to create much-needed new housing for workers and low-income residents. Usually built with direct state intervention and in clustered developments on superblock sites, mass housing took different forms – from carefully detailed British council estates to aggressively pragmatist high-rises in the United States – but held the common promise of modern, reasonably priced apartments. This built fabric today represents a significant physical asset, yet in many cases suffers from maintenance issues, financial disinvestment, and social stigma.

‘Where once demolition seemed the de facto response to these persistent issues, efforts in a number of cities demonstrate that we can serve current residents, steward resources for the future, and reinvigorate the urban fabric through smart public policy and good design. Redevelopment has gone by different names – regeneration, transformation, revitalisation – but in many of the best cases looks to maintain and improve the existing building stock and surroundings. When we choose to reinvest – in many cases the more financially, socially, and environmentally conscious decision – how do we do so in ways that benefit and protect current residents?

Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures will examine the history, current status, and prospects of high-rise and superblock residential development. The conference will confront questions of design and policy. What does it mean to reconsider this building stock as an asset, rather than a liability or failure? How can the building stock be reimagined to better serve current residents and future generations? And what roles can architects, designers and affiliated professionals play in housing crises?’

The Architectural League of New York (10 December, 2016)

Confucius Plaza Apartments (1975)

A limited-equity housing cooperative in Chinatown with 762 apartments, the 44-storey Confucius Plaza building was the first major public-funded housing project built almost exclusively for Chinese Americans. Initiated by a Chinese-American shop owner who organised a development group through word of mouth and the use of Chinese-language newspapers, and funded mainly by the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, the project became the centre of a significant protest led by Asian-Americans for Equal Employment, which protested the lack of Chinese or Asian-American construction workers. Later joined by a host of other Chinatown organisations, as well as city-wide minority workers’ groups including the Black and Puerto Rican Coalition, the demonstrations led to the hiring of roughly 40 Asian-American workers as well as the addition of community and commercial facilities to the housing complex.

Sugar Hill Development (2014)

A mixed-use development in Harlem with 124 apartm, 70 per cent of the Sugar Hill apartments are targeted to extremely low-income (30 per cent Average Median Income, or below $25,750 for a family of four) and very low-income households (50 per cent AMI, or below $42,950 for a family of four), with the remaining 30 per cent rented to households below 80 per cent AMI ($68,700 for a family of four). 25 of the 124 apartments are reserved for homeless families; of the remainder, 50 per cent are reserved for residents of Community District 9. Residents were chosen by lottery and will not pay more than 30 per cent of their gross income in rent. Designed by Adjaye Associates and developed by the not-for-profit Broadway Housing Communities, the 13-storey building also includes, at ground level, a 100-seat pre-school, a children’s art museum and a community room.

– Susanne Schindler, Architecture vs. Housing: The Case of Sugar Hill 

Architects for Social Housing

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