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Redefining affordable housing in the Bronx

by Madelein
Redefining affordable housing in the Bronx

To redefine affordable housing design in the South Bronx neighbourhood of East Mott Haven, MLK Plaza will bring new affordable housing to a transforming neighbourhood with the priority of good design, generous shared spaces and amenities.

Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) has completed MLK Plaza, a 13-storey, 167-unit, affordable residential building in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. It was one of the first developments to use the new Zoning for Quality Affordability regulation, which allowed for a rezoning of the property from manufacturing to residential.

The block-long development includes 25 studios, 57 one-bedroom-, 60 two-bedroom- and 24 three-bedroom units.

The design
MLK Plaza is a new ground-up residential building being developed in the currently desolate industrial area in eastern Mott Haven, in the South Bronx.

Magnusson Architecture and Planning has designed a 13-storey affordable building at East 147th Street for Radson Development. Formerly zoned for manufacturing, a ULURP process is creating allowance for the development. The building designed is inspired by dichotomies of contrasts and materiality.

Heavy versus light and brick versus metal/glass, matte versus gloss expressed in dark brick versus metallic panels, and open versus closed visible as the mass versus the void, are all visible in the building design. Large windows at the elevator lobbies and the ends of the corridors maximise daylight. The lobby is located at the corner and includes a double-height glazed space framed by diagonal columns.

During the day it provides abundant daylight to the ground floor and at night it creates an icon of light in the neighbourhood.

Community impact
Situated at a corner site in the Mott Haven neighbourhood, the mass of the building occupies a large portion of a city block. The higher portion was designed closer to the public transportation hub, creating an iconic corner. The development will stretch across the full block, wrapping around the corners of Timson and Austin.

Future tenants will enjoy an elevated open balcony at the 7th floor, carved out from the building mass to break the longest wall on East 147th Street. This open space is adjacent to the gym and will have a deck that will integrate the interior space of the gym through collapsible glass doors. Other features include a backyard, recreation, community rooms and a 12th floor lounge. MLK Plaza is conveniently located close to public transportation as well as St Mary’s Park and Recreation Centre.

Finance and future development
Financed with the city’s ELLA programme, 100% of the apartments at MLK Plaza will be affordable to very low-income tenants. Those residents will have access to recreation and community rooms, a rear patio and a gym on the seventh floor, with an adjacent outdoor terrace. This market-rate style amenity space offers commanding views of the Manhattan skyline and East River. Sharing the views – one of the building’s most inspiring features – is a key component in this design, and speaks to the effort to plan for an inclusive living environment.

“Affordable housing shouldn’t be low-quality housing,” said Fernando Villa, principal of Magnusson Architecture and Planning. “Good design should be a priority when creating housing to improve people’s lives. That’s the idea behind MLK Plaza.”

The gym and open terrace space are also part of active design interventions to encourage physical health. Not only is the on-site workout space clearly a convenient way to stay healthy, but the 7th floor location is also midway between the top and bottom floors, making it possible for more people to use the stairs. To encourage use, the stairwell was conceived with active design principals in mind, so double height landings and windows provide daylight and more views.

As a nod to the site’s past, MLK Plaza’s exterior design embraces the neighbourhood’s industrial identity with dark grey brick and metal panels. The gold colour of the panels, however, provides a bright counterpoint to that aesthetic and reflects both the material quality of this housing and the value of its mission.

The gold swath at the 7th floor also aligns visually with the adjacent six-storey buildings. This helps to set MLK Plaza more comfortably within the scale of the surrounding properties. Nestled within this band, is the cut-out for the open-air terrace which helps break up the long facade.

The fully glazed, double-height corner lobby, framed by diagonal columns, provides abundant daylight to the ground floor and creates street-level illumination at night. A mural of the building’s namesake, painted by local graffiti artists Tats Cru, graces a lobby wall. Inside the apartments, hardwood floors warm the spaces and large windows flood them with natural light.

Committed to high standards for health and sustainability, the development was designed to achieve LEED Platinum.

PROJECT FACT SHEET
• Project name: MLK Plaza.
• Location: East 147th Street, Bronx, New York.
• Architect: Magnusson Architecture and Planning PC.
• Client/owner: Radson Development.
• Project types: Multifamily, affordable housing.
• Project scope: New construction.
• Size: 167 square feet.
• Year completed: 2019.
• Team: Magnusson Architecture and Planning, Architect.
• Project status: Built.

For more information visit: https://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/article/1684343/2020-wan-awards-entry-mlk-plaza-magnusson-architecture-planning-pc

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