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Architects Compete To Design Affordable Housing For Small Lots

The city has selected five finalists in an architecture competition to design affordable housing on 23 small municipal lots.

The contest, known as “Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC,” was announced in February by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects New York (AIANY) as a way of coming with inventive small living design solutions amid the city’s affordable housing crisis. In recent years, city officials have sought to identify abandoned vacant lots as possible development sites.

In total, over 400 designers from 36 countries submitted their ideas for the competition. The finalists' designs ranged from sustainability-minded modular forms to creative co-living spaces.

“Typical zoning restrictions on this type of lot don’t allow you to put more than two dwellings, and we thought that that’s not really enough to meet the need of affordable housing,” Peter Miller of Palette Architecture told Gothamist. “[We thought this was] the perfect opportunity to turn two units into eight units. The building code allows for four unrelated individuals to live together in a common dwelling, but we thought a great way to create a co-living model was to multiply the number of dwellings by four.”

Miller added that he and his team designed a building that was a little outside of HDP’s norm.

Michael Sorkin, who designed a project with a terrace garden, said that incorporating sustainability was a no-brainer.

“The only responsible possibility nowadays is to be serious about the [environment],” Sorkin told Gothamist. “This has to be native to every design we do now, full stop.”

In the first stage, architects were tasked with designing dwellings on a 17-foot-wide, 1,665-square-foot lot located on West 136th Street. The five design firms who successfully completed this round will earn a $3,000 stipend, an invitation to “capacity building workshops,” and will be featured in an exhibition opening in August at the Center for Architecture.

A panel of nine jurors, who range from urban planners to private developers, judged the submissions.

“As a jury, we looked for inventive proposals that considered the residents as well as the communities beyond,” said AIANY 2019 president and jury chair Hayes Slade. “We discussed design quality broadly, with a focus on technical feasibility. Accessibility, both physical and economic, was also an important consideration.”

In the next and final phase of the competition, finalists will develop their designs further on one or more additional city-owned plots. If all goes well, HPD will actually build the affordable housing designs proposed by one or more of the teams.

“The urgency of the affordability crisis requires us to continually push the envelope to meet our city’s diverse housing needs,” said HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll in a statement. “To unlock some of our most difficult-to-develop sites we needed to take a fresh approach, and taking that leap has clearly paid off.”

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