Project DescriptionIn 2001 RKTB responded to the challenge of providing affordable housing to New York’s families by devising a means for filling in vacant sites throughout the city with an innovative, four-story, eight-unit “Smart Housing” prototype. Seven projects using this model have been completed to date, representing approximately 400 affordable apartments. The architects’ most recently-completed project of this type is Msgr. Anthony J. Barretta Apartments in Brooklyn’s East New York, a diverse working class area that has decayed precipitously over three generations.
The concept of “Smart Housing” is to provide high-quality affordable housing; to build “as of right” under existing codes; to follow good practice energy guidelines; and to regenerate existing communities by filling in vacant lots within districts that would yield 50-110 dwelling units per acre. Although the width of each building can vary from 32.6’ to 42’, the building section remains basically the same and is the keystone of the design. Different versions are grouped together to form the Barretta Apartments, a 69,877 square-foot housing complex that provides a total of sixty-four units in eight individual buildings.
The adaptive nature of the prototype’s design is its most affordable feature. It also complies with NYSERDA energy guidelines and qualifies for LEED certification. Further, because of the size of the buildings only one stair is required in each, eliminating the need for elevators. The glass-enclosed stairwells, conceived as vertical extensions of the street, are at the front and provide a clear view of the street from within. They are also viewed from the sidewalk, adding to the buildings’ sense of security. Careful material selection also helps keep costs low. The facades are of cost effective masonry and stucco, but the stairs’ glass enclosures resemble a more expensive glass curtain wall. The double-exposure layouts afford cross ventilation, another energy and cost-saving feature.
This project proves that affordable housing can be well-designed and contextual—and provide a pleasant and socially acceptable place to live while serving as a strategy for renewing urban neighborhoods. Within the first week of the Msgr. Anthony J. Barretta Apartments’ opening, 5,000 families applied for the sixty-four apartments, eight of which are Section 8 for very low-income tenants.