Joshua Jow, MArch II 2016
Summer 2015
Organization: Institute for Public Architecture, New York, NY, USA
Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship

“For the past six weeks I have been working with the Institute for Public Architecture on affordable housing research for the city of New York. We have been working in parallel with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Robin Hood Foundation in order to develop a “model prototype” in East Harlem. The Robin Hood Foundation along with the district attorney’s office have identified East Harlem as a potential funding site due to high crime statistics and the overall disrepair of the buildings.

I started out my research looking at the history of low-income developments in the United States through the dual lenses of policy and the political milieu of the early 1950’s and 1960’s following the end of World War II. Many of the large scale housing developments of this time were designed under the auspices of the Modernist movement with Le Corbusier’s “tower in the park” typology becoming a rallying point for architects and urban designers as a solution to the maladies of urban living by offering light, air, and green space to its residents. They are presently typically viewed as examples of urban blight and a reminder of the failures of the modernist promise.

Upon closer inspection, however, one can begin to see that it is not the buildings or typologies that have failed. The problems that affect low-income housing and these types of developments in particular are systemic and stretch far beyond what individual buildings can determine. One must look at the economic and socio-political structures that these housing projects exist in and understand how we can change those in addition to the built environment if we want to affect any sort of long lasting positive change.

With this as a starting point, we began to dive deeper into the proposed site in East Harlem. The site is unique in that it is composed of four contiguous superblocks that span between seven avenues and five streets. There are four NYCHA developments on this site, each one with a different “tower in the park” building typology. This presents a unique opportunity to roll out new designs and improvements that can be applied to similar conditions across the city. We have begun an extensive site analysis of the four sites with the eventual goal of creating a masterplan of the area and a more in depth redesign of one of the sites.

This past Tuesday we had a meeting with Robin Hood and the Architectural League of New York to present our research thus far and to get a feeling on where they are politically with the various city agencies. It was an extremely interesting look into how funding sources are procured and allocated and the types of bureaucratic red tape one has to deal with in order to move forward with a project. Our strategy, as of now, is to move forward with a design proposal on our own for the East Harlem site in order to generate traction with NYCHA.”