Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

It sprung up 40 years ago as a more livable alternative to high-rise public housing. Are there lessons we can adapt today?

According to the most recent US Census data, this is the first time since before the 1950s that more people are moving into New York City than are moving out—bringing the estimated population to a record high of 8,336,697. Now that is high density. So it is only fitting that we should start directing our focus toward different housing models that accommodate the city’s changing need for space. (Mayor Bloomberg’s micro apartments, anyone?)

A new exhibition at the Center for Architecture, and co-sponsored by the Institute for Public Architecture, provides a good starting point. “Low Rise High Density,” examines the history of a typology that sprung up 40 years ago, when the need for space and better living conditions led to alternatives to high-rise public housing.

LRHD_04

Detail from the catalog for Another Chance for Housing: Low-Rise Alternatives, Museum of Modern Art, 1973. Rendering by Craig Hodgetts. Marcus Garvey Park Village site plan by the Urban Development Corporation with the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies.

“Low Rise High Density” is the brainchild of curator Karen Kubey, executive director of the IPA, who began her research on the topic while a student at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Her proposal won her an Oral History Award fellowship from the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, as well as a GSAPP Post-Graduate William Kinne Traveling Fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to conduct research in various countries. The results of her extensive investigations are the content of the exhibition.

Modeled a bit after suburban homes, these low-rise high-density buildings reached their heyday in the 1970s. This type of housing serves two functions: 1) to intensify land use as urban growth escalates by providing higher density; and 2) to improve living conditions by using suburban housing characteristics such as more open space, more light, and a closer connection to the ground. These homes offered all the amenities of urban living—access to public transportation and cultural amenities—with a more open, less claustrophobic environment.


Marcus Garvey Park Village, Brownsville, Brooklyn. Photo by Karen Kubey.

LRHD_05

The most celebrated example of this model is Brooklyn’s Marcus Garvey Park Village, from 1973. (Indeed, the year Marcus Garvey opened to the public, the Museum of Modern Art launched an exhibition hailing its achievement called "Another Chance for Housing.")

Through a curated set of photographs, architectural drawings, and original oral histories, "Low Rise High Density" brings into context a housing model that lacks significant contemporary scholarship.

Upon entering the exhibition space, visitors are immediately presented with examples of low-rise high-density housing projects from around the world, starting from the earliest: Siedlung Halen in Switzerland, from 1961, and NYC’s Marcus Garvey Park Village. Audio clips of interviews with project architects augment the sensory experience by allowing viewers to read, see, and listen to the historical material.

"Low Rise High Density" demonstrates that these buildings are not only as important now as they were 40 years ago in their heyday, but necessary. With the city still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, this is a "discussion that has to be had, and frequently," says Rick Bell, Executive Director of the Center for Architecture, AIA New York Chapter.

And considering that MoMA has influenced building types through its architectural exhibitions, what better way to jump-start a discussion than through an exhibit? "Having an exhibition rather than just a panel discussion … prompts people to reflect longer, take things away in their minds [and] come back," says Bell. That is what the Center for Architecture aims to do: In the days following the exhibition opening, visitors will have a chance to return and discuss the issues that "Low Rise High Density" brings up during three public programs on May 9, June 3, and June 26.

Top image: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Oxley Woods Houses, Milton Keynes, Bucks, UK, 2007. Street view. Image © 2013 Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners LLP.

This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of Andrew Field, the owner of Rockaway Taco, looking out from his store in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.
    Life

    Tacos and Transit: Rate Your City

    From taco-rich San Diego to the tortilla wastelands of Boston, we asked you to grade U.S. cities on two critical metrics: Mexican food and public transportation.

  2. Young students walking towards a  modern wood building surrounded by snow and trees
    Environment

    Norway’s Energy-Positive Building Spree Is Here

    Oslo’s Powerhouse collective wants buildings that make better cities in the face of climate change.

  3. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.
    Design

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  4. The Metropolitan Opera House in New York
    Equity

    How Urban Core Amenities Drive Gentrification and Increase Inequality

    A new study finds that as the rich move back to superstar cities' urban cores to gain access to unique amenities they drive low-income people out.

  5. A pupil works on a cardboard architectural model at a Hong Kong primary school.
    Design

    The Case for Architecture Classes in Schools

    Through the organization Architecture for Children, Hong Kong architect Vicky Chan has taught urban design and planning to thousands of kids. Here’s why.