Harlem Housing Extension

Instead of restocking new housing by demolishing the current and building from ground up, existing estates should serve as scaffolds in building new communities. 


Public Housing, Structural Extension
Competition Entry (1st Place, Forge Prize)
Vincent Yee Foo Lai, Douglas Min Yi Lee

NYCHA housing estates in New York City are in need of an urgent update. Like many aged buildings, many of these early to mid-century housing estates are facing problems such as poor serviceability, safety, community management and a general lack of well-designed public spaces. More recently, 17 people died in a fire caused by a malfunctioning electric space heater and unserviceable escape stairwell in a 19 story building in the Bronx, New York. On top of that, New York is facing a shortage of affordable public housing to meet the demands of increasing population, homelessness and rent prices. It is estimated that by 2040, New York City could potentially add an additional 1 million people to the city, according to Regional Plan Association research prediction. 

In our proposal, instead of restocking new housing by demolishing the current and building from ground up, existing estates should serve as scaffolds in building new communities. We believe that total reconstruction of the public housing sites will uproot and displace existing communities. Existing community density and building proportions will guide the new housing density and structural composition respectively. The proposed housing attachment will revitalize the community life by creating a flexible common space in between the new and existing. This space aims at recalibrating the social programs relevant for revitalizing the shared community between current estate’s residents and future tenants. We call this the ‘common-sky’ typology. For the past 4 months, we have used Riverton Square Apartments in Harlem as a test bed for this new typology. 

The extended architecture is constructed using a rectilinear structural frame as well as a structurally embedded gantry crane that is able to lift building material up during its initial construction phase as well as after construction is completed.

Echoing a similar floor grid from the original Riverton Square Apartments, the new space frame is made up of a series of 1’-9” deep lattice trusses (with 36’ spans), which connects to a series of exterior cor-ten steel column rails that provide a structural canvas for the new extended housing as well as reinforcing the existing housing with its embedded MEP components that run vertically down to the ground. With site deployability being a priority, a gridded frame allows for maximum flexibility when adapting to a new estate across different NYCHA typologies. 

In addition to the main public space between the existing housing estate and the new extension, there will be smaller common areas designed for each floor as well as vertical circulatory spaces between floors.

Micro shared spaces
Roof Garden
Each with a specific program (Community kitchen, shared library, sun-bathing deck, pool table room, etc.), these amenity-based micro public spaces will allow tenants/families to host parties, to engage in a specific activity, or just to congregate casually/spontaneously.

“Common Sky” as the main shared amenity space

Renovated Lobby Entrance

Unit Interior within Housing Extension 

Typical Corridor within Housing Extension

(Left) Gerberette Structural System for existing block / (Right) Facade Update for existing block