Innovative Affordable Community Incorporates Energy-Efficient Features and Playful Design


The Morrisania neighborhood of New York City is changing with the times. The area, once dominated by manufacturing, is currently transitioning to a mixed-use district.

Third Avenue Development — designed by Curtis + Ginsberg Architects and 2020 Best in Green Affordable Multifamily Community for the Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Awards — is one of the latest new buildings now possible because of a 2003 rezoning. The newly constructed eight-story, mixed-use building offers 30 units of affordable rental housing and an early childhood educational facility.

Already LEED Platinum certified, the project is also designed for Passive House (PHIUS) certification — one of the first in the Bronx. It implements the NYC Active Design Guidelines, which further promote healthy living. The mixed-income, 52,000-square-foot project includes:

  • 14 rental units for low-income households,
  • Eight rental units for moderate income households, and
  • Eight units set aside for homeless households.

To maximize the 9,000-square-foot building footprint on its 175-foot-deep site, a central court divides the building into front and back. The court also provides ample natural daylight into the corridors, which feature floor-to-ceiling windows.

The exterior colors correspond to the internal circulation spaces, and the staircases have brightly colored super graphics to encourage use. All residents of the 52,000-square-foot building have access to an expansive green roof with an occupiable roof terrace.

“This project demonstrates that quality housing can be both affordable and sustainable, and was designed to encourage community building,” stated Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEEDAP, principal at Curtis + Ginsberg. “It replaced a dilapidated three-story auto shop and vacant residential building, and the new mixed-use building now provides affordable housing for multiple income levels and unit sizes to meet the growing housing needs of the Bronx and the larger New York City community.”

The exterior façade comprises three systems: locally made concrete block, with 30% post-consumer recycled glass and 50% regionally concrete aggregates; metal panel; and exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS), which proportionately break up the tall and slender structure to relate to the surrounding neighborhood. This playful façade is highly visible from a distance, along with the terrace-like structure provided by the photovoltaic (PV) panels. These rooftop PV arrays maximize solar energy and are just one of the sustainable design approaches. Other measures include:

  • Green roofs,
  • Skylights,
  • Energy recovery ventilators (ERVs),
  • Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) heating and cooling systems, and
  • Energy-efficient windows, lighting and appliances.

“The individual VRF heating and cooling units allow for comfort control within each unit, while controlling and maintaining overall energy management by limiting the ranges of heating and cooling within each unit,” Ginsberg explained. “Individual ERVs pretemper fresh outdoor air coming into the building, further reducing energy use. And lighting sensors in common areas, natural light in corridors and bi-level-lights with low levels in egress areas when unoccupied also offer a substantial reduction in energy consumption.”

Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) were utilized to develop a well-insulated envelope that minimizes energy loss, and low-flow plumbing fixtures and native species planting reduce water use throughout the building. Both uses meet stringent Passive House requirements, which was a unique design challenge to balance the different energy consumption with programmatic requirements. The Passive House system is designed for the buildings two uses, meeting the differing energy requirements for the residential and educational spaces.

“The LEED Platinum certified Third Avenue Development is a highly impressive urban mixed-use development with an innovative and incredibly efficient design,” one Pillars judge noted. “Perhaps most impressive is the creative and imaginative site planning, which includes a ground-floor children’s development center for the use of its residents and surrounding community. The development’s myriad energy-efficient and ‘green’ features go above and beyond the average sustainable development.”

The Little Scholars Early Development Center occupies 9,600 square feet on the first floor and lower level, and is designed to encourage each child’s creativity and exploration of their environment, with a strong connection to the outdoors. Playful interior window shapes allow interaction between classroom and common spaces.

The project is financed through New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), as part of its Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP), along with a 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) equity and a private bank loan provided by JP Morgan Chase.

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