How to Deal with Aging Housing Projects
June 7, 2011
Next time you hear an architect complain about how difficult it is to innovate amidst the crumbling public housing infrastructure in your city, tell them to shut it. It can be done, and it has. In fact, the constraints of the old have a history of producing the best architecture.
Working with the aging “dinosaurs” of Modernism may not sound like a lot of fun to children of the starchitect era, but that’s what the future holds. Here’s a project that, despite being related to one of more hated development debates of the last decade, manages the “limitations of the old” with surprising grace.
Stuyvesant Town development on the east side of Manhattan, photo via The Observer.
Developers Tishman Speyer and renovation architects Cetra Ruddy has been much-criticized for their treatment of Stuyvesant Town, the 11,600-apartment complex on the East Side spread over 80 acres. Shade has been thrown on all aspects of their takeover, and for a while it seemed that the citizens may actually self-organize a revolt. One of the many ways in which Tishman was mocked was the “luxury-” bent of all its marketing schemes. The developer, interesting in upselling the sixty-year-old apartments, attempted to shove “luxury” into every spare inch of the complex, much to the chagrin of long-time residents.
For all the missteps and absurdities of the last five years of their control, we have to say that the four newly-unveiled amenity spaces seem difficult to argue with (although one blogger has already criticized them for putting children “on display”). Each glass-clad space interacts with the pre-existing shell of Stuy Town, dropping a glass curtain wall between the gardens and the interior spaces that seems to almost dissolve the barrier between inside and out that’s made so explicit by the thick red-brick walls of the buildings.
Of the four rooms, one is a study space, one is a lounge, one is a kid’s space, and the other is a film screening room. Architecture that responds to a set of stringent constraints is far more interesting than architecture on a tabula rasa, for its own sake. Whether or not you like how these spaces “look,” the project is instructive, considering how common re-use projects are destined to become.
From Margaux Jaffa: ”CetraRuddy created four unique indoor/outdoor amenity spaces: OvalFilm, OvalLounge, OvalStudy and OvalKids. The four crystalline glass enclosures were designed as educational and recreational amenity spaces that would create a new town center for 11,600 apartments. The design concept incorporates mullion-free glass enclosures with vibrant jewel-tone interior design schemes that create an indoor/outdoor experience, showcasing indoor activity while also connecting to the pedestrian streetscape. A bluestone terrace with outdoor seating creates a podium on which each glass form sits. Occupying space within a garden, the materials used for the project are sustainable: recycled ruby floors, re-forested woods, recycled metals and recycled low VOC carpets.”
Have any of you experienced the ‘new’ Stuyvesant Town (or Peter Cooper Village) firsthand? Tell us about it in the comments.