Brooklyn, New York
American Prize for Architecture laureates Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates aim to improve the sustainability and livability of New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Red Hook Houses, making it a place of both environmental and social resiliency.
NYCHA Red Hook Houses Sandy Resiliency and Renewal Program was recently awarded with a 2020 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Like many communities across New York City, the Red Hook community of Brooklyn was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The largest NYCHA development in Brooklyn, Red Hook Houses, comprises two contiguous low-income housing developments built by NYCHA in 1939 and 1954.
Built on reclaimed land, these 28 buildings are home to over 8,000 residents. Sandy had a disastrous effect upon the community, leaving thousands of residents without power, hot water, and without access to other basic necessities, including food, supplies, and medical needs.
With floodwaters reaching up to five feet in certain areas, Red Hook Houses’ infrastructure and building systems suffered dramatically.
Virtually all basement mechanical rooms were destroyed, and site maintenance has been a constant problem since the storm, forcing residents to cope with temporary facilities and disruptions in services.
The design of the project and the research approach to it, incorporated community input at every phase of design. Focus groups, interviews, surveys, design workshops, and update meetings introduced crucial local knowledge into the design process, enabling the development of a successful new vision and master plan for the site.
One of the most disastrous and lingering effects of Sandy was the failure of the boiler plants that were ineffectively located in the buildings’ basements.
The master plan includes two freestanding buildings for boilers and emergency generators that will be raised above-established flood elevations. These buildings are located at the east and west extremities of the development, and both incorporate through their design a way of contributing back to the community’s social environment.
The West Plant includes a planted roof, and its main wall is dedicated to a community-led art mural that faces the adjacent public park; while the East Plant features a large glass window with a view into the main boiler in an effort to raise public awareness of climate change, making visible the building’s role in providing power to the community and underlining the importance of resiliency education.
The campus also features 14 “utility pods” dispersed throughout the campus to distribute heat and electricity.
The architects have conceived of these as simultaneously contributing to nighttime illumination and an improved sense of security.
Through their individual coloration, these pods also contribute to the humanization of the development and a sense of orientation. This semi-decentralization of infrastructure protects the community against future storms by decreasing the likelihood of widespread utility failure.
In order to effectively provide flood protection to buildings and entrances, a nonobtrusive landscape solution of “lily pads” was developed. By creating stepped landscaped terraces at the center of open courtyards, the architects created permanent flood barriers to support a secure yet porous campus.
A low flood wall – which doubles as a bench in normal conditions – will be supplemented by passive barriers located at passageways and will automatically deploy in the event of high water.
The new “lily pads” further transform the daily life of residents by providing vibrant, social new spaces and new playgrounds throughout the development – and most importantly, comfort in the knowledge that a dry safe haven is available to them in the event of another superstorm.
Project: NYCHA Red Hook Houses Sandy Resiliency and Renewal Program
Architects: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Client: New York City Housing Authority
General Contractor: The LiRo Group
Photographers: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates