Exterior of Via Verde.

Exterior of Via Verde. Image from http://grimshaw-architects.com/project/via-verde-the-green-way/

Location Plan

Location Plan, South Bronx, New York.

South Bronx, New York, has been a region of intense development of low-middle income housing. It aims to revitalize this area that was caused by past building fires and abandonment. One of the sites located at Brook Avenue and East 156th Street is an irregularly shaped 60,000 ft2 vacant lot that consists of city-owned property and a legally abandoned railway, was used for the 2006 New Housing New York Legacy Project competition for Via Verde.

The challenge of this competition was to design housing that would be “affordable, sustainable, and replicable.” A diverse team of two architectural firms, Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects, alongside with for-profit affordable housing developer, Jonathon Rose Companies and lastly, a non-profit housing developer, Phillip Houses, won the competition.

The first thing that the designers did was to ask the people in the neighborhood what kind of building they wanted and the response was, they wanted a healthy place to live in. Green design, when it has not been turned into a marketing device, has mostly been known for its environmental benefits. What then is a healthy design?

Through this design that consists of different housing types to meet a diversity of residential needs, the designers aim to promote environmental and social sustainability. Their key design concept is a series of multi-functional roof terraces spiraling from the top down to a central courtyard. Also, it is driven by engendering a sense of community. Various massing studies were done to respond to the larger site context and were carefully crafted to accommodate the scale of the existing neighborhood and adjacent housing while adding both housing and green space to a brownfield site in the South Bronx.

 

 

Images from Architectural Record and http://grimshaw-architects.com/project/via-verde-the-green-way/

Images from Architectural Record and http://grimshaw-architects.com/project/via-verde-the-green-way/

Rising south to north from 3-storey townhouses to 20-storey tower, the building wraps around an intimate central landscaped courtyard. All residents will access the building via a Brook Avenue entrance to the courtyard, activating the semi-public space. Starting at the amphitheatre, residents will climb to the multi-functional roofs, spiraling up through plantings of conifers, an orchard, and gardening plots. This transition from public to private realm is important for the movability of the residents. These public and private spaces encourage residents to spend more time outdoors. At the same time, to promote healthier living, Via Verde incorporates a community health clinic located at the street level and also, through architecture features such as open staircases, which serves as an alternative to elevators. As the cost of living and the need for housing continues to increase in New York, the designers have built a healthy place for residents to live in by uniting the 3 concepts, affordable housing, innovative design and sustainability, which are usually mutually exclusive.

If we were to relate this case study with Singapore’s public housing, activities such as farming may or may not work in our culture or context. From my observation, some Singaporeans are taking initiatives to be involved in farming. For instance, along the Rail Corridor, there are sights of spontaneous farming at certain locations. This might be a hint of what Singaporeans want as part of their lifestyles thus, we could investigate on how such spaces could be part of our community spaces. On another note, Singapore as a multi-racial country, it is a challenge to build spaces that will not cause social tensions in the community.  With reference to this case study, the deliberate planning of the different unit types is placed in such a way that every unit has a view of the central courtyard and in addition, has the same façade system. This showcases the integration of architectural design and the society. Finally, there is an absence of void decks in Via Verde unlike Singapore’s. In Via Verde, their ‘void decks’ are the multi-functional roof terraces which will be more pleasing than the monolithic column void deck spaces in Singapore however, this may not be applicable to the local context due to the land scarcity. Overall, Via Verde breaks the typical housing model and is a successful social housing project that addressed poverty, health and the environment that Singapore can extract characteristics from that can meet the local needs and environment.

 

References:

  1. Carrot City.   (2010). Via Verde. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from Carrot City.   Designing for Urban Agriculture.:   http://www.ryerson.ca/carrotcity/board_pages/housing/via_verde.html
  2. Grimshaw   Architects. (2013). Via Verde- The Green Way. Retrieved September 20,   2013, from Grimshaw Architects:   http://grimshaw-architects.com/project/via-verde-the-green-way/
  3. Kubey, K. (2012,   June 14). Via Verde. domus.