Ten infill residential developments help strengthen the urban fabric with contemporary architecture that responds to community needs and the surrounding context.
Inserting contemporary architecture into a historic neighborhood requires a sensitive approach. The new building should avoid resembling an alien creature dropped from the sky, but, at the same time, distinctive contemporary architecture adds to the life of the city. After all, all buildings were contemporary at one time, and a variety of eras coexisting gives a city its character while providing a road map to its past and present.
The following ten projects, all completed in the past five years, weave new housing into existing urban environments. Many also add street-level uses ranging from shops and offices to restaurants and even a clinic. One project represents the first foray of Walgreens into mixed-use development—in combination with affordable housing. Whether they house 12 units or 430, whether they translate rowhouses for the 21st century or play with color and geometry à la Piet Mondrian, they all contribute to an architectural and civic dialogue that has been going on for as long as cities have existed. (The ten projects are listed alphabetically, not in any rank order.)
1. 60 Richmond East Housing Co-Operative
Toronto Community Housing Corporation is rebuilding Regent Park, Canada’s largest and oldest publicly funded housing project. The housing corporation teamed up with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto and a hospitality workers’ union to house some of the displaced residents, along with local hotel and restaurant workers, in the new 60 Richmond East Housing Co-Operative in downtown’s east end. Taking a cue from the residents’ line of work, local firm Teeple Architects drew on the idea of urban permaculture, with a resident-owned-and-operated restaurant and training kitchen on the ground floor. The buildings’ green roofs collect stormwater that irrigates the sixth-floor kitchen garden, which supplies produce for the restaurant; organic kitchen waste provides compost for the garden. Completed in 2010, the 11-story, 85-unit structure defines the street corner with three-story interlocking modules that step out and back to allow in natural light and create outdoor green spaces. It achieved a Gold rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
2. Archstone Avenir
Demolition of the elevated Central Artery and completion of the Big Dig’s underground expressway set the stage for revitalization in Boston’s historic Bulfinch Triangle neighborhood. Archstone Avenir, the neighborhood’s first completed building since the Big Dig, fills a full city block directly above two subway lines. Local firm ICON Architecture gave the building a variety of masses ranging from three to ten stories, with the tallest sections placed on the ends at cross streets. An extensive public design review process helped shape the facade, which responds to nearby historic brick buildings. Parking is tucked into the building’s interior at the second and third levels, concealed behind double-height loft units. The project includes 241 residential units and 27,000 square feet (2,500 sq m) of ground-floor retail space. It was completed in 2009 for local developer Trinity Financial and apartment investment and management company Archstone-Smith, based in Englewood, Colorado.
3. Broadway Crossing
When local residents heard that Walgreens planned to build a one-story drugstore building with surface parking on a corner location in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, they showed up in droves at the community design review meeting to put forward their own vision: affordable multifamily housing. The former gas station site occupied a busy intersection close to public transit in one of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods. Walgreens and its development partner, S.E. Grainger Development Group of Mercer Island, Washington, teamed with nonprofit housing provider Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program to create a five-story building with four floors of housing, a landscaped courtyard, ground-floor space for Walgreens, and underground parking. All 44 residential units are affordable, renting to residents earning 60 percent or less of the area median income. Designed by local firm GGLO and completed in 2007, Broadway Crossing reinforces the pedestrian streetscape with awnings, shade trees, and street art.
4. The Erbe at the Piazza
At a sheriff’s auction ten years ago, local developer Tower Investments purchased a portion of the former Schmidt’s Brewery site in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. On a three-acre (1.2-ha) site less than a block away from subway and other public transit lines, local architect Erdy McHenry Architecture designed the mixed-use Piazza at Schmidt’s, patterned after Rome’s Piazza Navona. The first phase, the Erbe at the Piazza, was completed in 2006, a contemporary reinterpretation of the city’s rowhouses. The 430 two-story apartments are L-shaped, stacked, and interlocked so that only two corridors are necessary in the six-story building, making room for more units and maximizing opportunities for access to natural light. Ground-floor shops and restaurants keep the pedestrian plane active. More residential and commercial buildings have followed, ringing the piazza, which opened in 2009. The 80,000-square-foot (7,400-sq-m) piazza is the site of activities such as a farmers’ market and broadcasts of sports and entertainment events on a large-scale high-definition video screen.
5. The Lacey
The Florida Avenue Grill in Washington, D.C.’s U Street corridor has been an institution for more than 60 years, serving soul food to local residents and celebrities alike. When the grill’s owner, Wilson Enterprises of New York City, decided to build multifamily housing on the adjacent parking lot site, it dubbed the new building the Lacey, after the restaurant’s founder, Lacey Wilson. Local firm Division1 Architects chose a contemporary palette of glass, steel, and concrete, but also took cues from the neighborhood’s rowhouses, with individual walkup stoops for each of the four live/work duplex units and exterior staircases that riff off fire escapes. Completed in 2009, the four-story, 26-unit building is located a few blocks from a Metro subway station. All units have a yard, balcony, or deck; an internal atrium brings natural light into the residences.
6. OneEleven Mixed-Use Development
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A public/private partnership of city and state governments, Louisiana State University, and nonprofit arts groups created the Shaw Center for the Arts, which opened in downtown Baton Rouge in 2005 with theaters, the university art museum, an art gallery, retail businesses, restaurants, and a public plaza. The final piece of the puzzle was housing—the 12-unit OneEleven, completed in 2008 on a narrow site bordered by the Shaw Center, a restaurant, and a pedestrian alley. OneEleven’s materials—glass, steel, and stucco—reference those of the Shaw Center, while its scale and massing are similar to those of the black-box theater on the other side of the alley. The massing also steps back to respond to the buildings in the arts and entertainment district to the east. Ground-floor commercial/retail space opens onto the pedestrian path. Local firm Remson|Haley|Herpin Architects designed the four-story building for local developer Commercial Properties Realty Trust.
Housing in downtown Phoenix has tended to take the form of small bungalows or, more recently, high rises. PRD845—the name derives from the phrase “planned residential development,” combined with the street address on North Eighth Avenue—represents a vote for the value of medium-scaled housing. It consists of 12 condominium units in three buildings placed parallel to each other and separated by private mews lined with pedestrian walkways and driveways leading to the development’s two-car garages. Units range from studios to one- and two-bedroom dwellings, all of which have roof decks; some also include work/live spaces. Designed for the desert climate, a rain screen comprising corrugated, fiber-reinforced concrete panels on furring channels helps keep the interiors cool, expelling heat through a slot at the top. Completed in 2007, the project is the handiwork of local developer GreenRoof Development Company LLC and local architecture firm Studio Ma.
In 2002, the Southwark London Borough Council embarked on regeneration of the Elephant and Castle area, addressing the massive automobile infrastructure that has led to its segmentation since the 1960s and making way for redevelopment. London developer First Base partnered with the Homes and Communities Agency, the national regeneration authority, to create Printworks, a nine-story mixed-use building near two London Underground stations, with a total of 140 dwellings in one-, two-, and three-bedroom configurations. As part of what is known as the London-Wide Initiative, about one-third of the units are offered under a shared equity scheme to key workers—such as nurses, police officers, and teachers—with a household income below £60,000 ($96,300). The rest are for-sale units at market rates. All units are built to the same specifications. London-based Glenn Howells Architects clad the building in bronze aluminum and placed a large landscaped courtyard at the back; offices occupy the ground floor. Printworks was completed in 2010.
9. Seven Directions
The Native American Health Center, a nonprofit organization based in Alameda, California, has had a clinic in Oakland since the early 1980s, providing community health and prevention services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Because its clients were facing challenges finding affordable rental housing, the organization teamed up with Oakland-based nonprofit housing developer East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation to create Seven Directions in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. The clinic occupies the first two floors of the five-story building, while the top three stories hold 36 apartments for households with annual incomes between $10,000 and $64,000. The units surround a third-level courtyard, and each has a private balcony. Completed in 2008 and designed by local firm Pyatok Architects and associate architect SGPA Architecture and Planning of San Francisco, the building incorporates Native American–themed art throughout, including a four-story sculpted-steel eagle’s feather at the building’s front. The clinic lobby also serves as a community gathering place.
When building on one of the last undeveloped parcels in downtown Denver, local developer Urban Villages brought in Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects of Toronto to create a mixed-use building that was both of its time and respectful of the 16th Street Mall pedestrian thoroughfare and its many historic buildings. The designers paid particular attention to the six-story historic landmark next door, the Sugar Building, which dates to 1906. Completed in 2008, SugarCube has street-level retail space, offices on the second through fourth floors, and 37 apartments on the fifth through tenth floors. The ten-story central volume provides a contemporary contrast to the surroundings with black brick cladding, varied window sizes, and projecting balconies. A four-story and a six-story volume wrap the base with buff-colored brick that matches the facades of the historic neighbors. The six-story volume also relates to the Sugar Building in the dimensions and proportions of the massing, masonry piers, and punched grid of windows.