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The Riverside Park Community apartment complex is a group of five buildings ranging in height from 10 to 35 stories at 3333 Broadway between West 133rd and 135th Streets, in New York City. Upon completion in 1976, it stood as the largest residential structure in the United States. The buildings include 1,200 apartment units and were designed to accommodate nearly 1,190 low- and middle-income families. Also included in the community design were plans for Public School I.S. 195, a medical building and pharmacy, and playground facilities for 1,800 children. The principal architectural firm for the project was Max Wechsler and Associates, and the developer of the project was the Educational Construction Fund, a New York State Agency.
The community was constructed under the Mitchell-Lama program, which is a state-run program that was created in 1955 and provided low-interest mortgage loans and property tax exemptions to landlords who agreed to provide low-income residents with affordable housing at below-market-rate rents. “Landlords generally may remove their developments from Mitchell-Lama and privatize them by prepaying the mortgage. In most cases, that happens 20 years after the project was developed, but in some cases, special land use agreements specify more time.” In 2005, the landlord of the building, Jerome Belson, opted out of the program. A class action lawsuit was brought against the current owner by many of the building's tenants, alleging that they were not properly notified of the rise in rental costs and for systematically harassing them to move out and make room for tenants who can afford to pay higher rents. The case was dismissed without merit.
At the time of its development, the area surrounding the site of the Riverside Park Community consisted primarily of low-rent tenement housing and mixed-use commercial/residential building types that made up much of Broadway in West Harlem.
At a cost of $54 million, the Educational Construction Fund developed this project as the first phase of a total renewal of the area between West 125th Street and 135th Street, from Broadway to Riverside Drive. When the property first opened, in Spring 1976, the director of sales received over 9,000 applications in the rental office. At the time, a family of five had to meet a basic income requirement of $13,000/year to qualify for housing. Federal subsidies, however, made it possible for people with incomes less than that which was required to obtain housing in the building. In 1976, a one-bedroom apartment cost $228/month and a two-bedroom apartment cost $272. Today, the rents for those apartments start at $1,750 and $2,250, respectively.
One way the management of the Riverside Apartments planned to combat these and other unsavory effects of high density housing was to create the Tenants Orientation Program (TOP). Through this program, new tenants would go through an orientation upon moving in, where they would learn about building maintenance, facilities management, and the security system; the idea being that by putting the systems controls in the hands of the community, a sense of control would be instilled in the tenants, and this would translate to safety and create a better, more enjoyable place to live. This type of program has been improved upon and evolved in many housing projects throughout the United States. These programs encouraged tenants to play an active role in the policies and planning of these types of developments. At 3333 Broadway, however, the program was largely unsuccessful, and the building fell into disrepair. The building opted out of the Mitchell-Lama program in 2005, and its current owners, who purchased the complex in 2007, are spending significant money and energy into rehabilitating the building's systems, facades, roofs and energy efficiency. Cosmetic changes to the building's interiors have also been completed. In 2011, Columbia University began its Manhattanville expansion project. The project zone stretches along Broadway between 125th Street and 133rd Street and the southern side of 3333 Broadway will border Columbia's project zone.
The principal Architect was Max Wechsler of Max Wechsler & Associates. Two architectural consultants to Wechsler were Richard Dattner and Henry LeGendre. The New York Times credited Dattner and LeGendre as the architects who designed the housing complex. Seven days later, the Times printed a letter to the editor, from Max Wechsler, proclaiming that his firm was in fact the lead design team on the project and Dattner and LeGendre “served as consultants only.”
Max Wechsler & Associates also built a high-rise residential building at 300 East 34th Street in the 1970s. He practiced architecture in New York City throughout his whole career. He died on September 23, 1993.
At the time of its inception, the site of the Riverside Community Housing complex was mainly made up of multifamily tenement housing. West Harlem suffered from street crime at the time, and New York City in general was facing the monumental trend of suburban flight. Urban planners, politicians, and developers alike were pushing to finance projects such as 3333 Broadway to keep middle-income families from moving out of the city.
The building was built on a lot covering approximately 285,000 square feet (26,500 m2) in the Manhattanville district of West Harlem. To the West of the buildings lies the West Side Highway (Route 9) and beyond that New York's Hudson River, which flows southward from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. To the east of the site is Broadway, the oldest North-South thoroughfare in New York City. Across West 133rd Street to the South is the Manhattanville Bus Depot, and across West 135th Street to the north of the development lies a row of early-twentieth-century brick tenement buildings.
The tenement housing surrounding the site of 3333 Broadway typically is decorated with classically derived ornament, while the Riverside Housing is clearly designed in the modernist tradition. There is very little ornament or applied decoration on the brick and concrete facade of the building. The exposed slabs at each floor give the building a horizontal element, likely to contrast the immense vertical nature of the structure. This detail is typical of housing design in the 1970s and was inexpensive to build, not to maintain, and the exposed slab was prone to heat loss due to a lack of insulation. The windows also read as windows and nothing more, as they were designed to lay perfectly flush within the exterior walls. The interior communal spaces have similar modernist elements, with floor-to-ceiling windows, rounded columns and terrazzo flooring throughout.
The front facade (where the main entry exists) is pulled away from Broadway to create an entrance. This design was most likely due to the Zoning Resolution of New York City, which calls for specific building height to setback ratios. Nonetheless, the setback of the building entrance creates a sort of public space at the corner of 135th and Broadway.
I.S. 195 also has a playground facing Broadway that creates a dialogue with the street. Although surrounded by a 20-foot-high (6.1 m) fence separating the street and the playground, and dropped below street level, a passerby can see children playing, beneficial to this neighborhood.
The building is built as a courtyard complex, with the five tall buildings built in a "c"-shape with the courtyard in the center. The five buildings are built above the grade of Broadway, and the public school and park that serves as the school's playground exist below the grade of Broadway. The playground fronts Broadway and serves as a connection to the West Harlem community. This public face is different from many of the other housing complexes in Harlem that are also built in the style of a courtyard building. Where many other housing complexes in the neighborhood have a communal space that serves only the residents of the building, the Riverside Community complex has this public space that is more integrated into the community and thus more successful, in that it is a less dangerous place for children to play and a more exposed place, which deters crime. The courtyard in the center of the complex is more typical to the types of housing complexes in New York City in that it is completely private and is used only by the residents of the complex.
The building stands as a sort of monument to a modern view towards housing in the United States of America in the 1970s and 1980s. The money spent on amenities went primarily to security upgrades, and not necessarily creating a comfortable place to live. These ideas were based on previous successes and failures of the housing movement, and the financial state of New York City at the time. Funds were made available to the developers to create such projects as this, but little consideration was made toward enhancing the lives of the tenants, other than in creating a residence that could be secured efficiently. The high rise was a direct reflection of the need for housing to be put up in a city that was rapidly developing and in which land was at a premium.
The uses are interesting because of the new technologies in security. The building is used by many parties (students, teachers, doctors, nurses, tenants, etc., and, at the time of construction, many of these users feared the consequences that had plagued other high-rise developments in New York City. Keeping the crime out of the building was of primary concern, and therefore the designers of the building went to great lengths to design a security system that was so evolved and high-tech that many of the residents later complained that they could not figure out how to simply let a friend in the front door without coming down to the ground floor to personally let them in. The elderly of the building especially had issues with this.
The complex at 3333 Broadway also uses the idea of the interior courtyard to create communal spaces for the residents of the building. Inaccessible from adjacent city streets, the courtyard is raised up, above the parking garage, and sits nestled between the five towers. In the courtyard are benches, trees, shrubs, and various concrete planters and designed hardscape surfaces. Similar to the facade of the building, the materials used in the courtyard are predominantly brick and concrete. The courtyard is surrounded by continuous floor-to-ceiling glazing, which creates a permeability between the buildings and the courtyard, and also gives the towers the quality of being lifted off the ground, as if on pilotis.
3333 Broadway is built using concrete foundations and a concrete structure. The facade is a typical brick cladding system. The floors are built of concrete slab, and they are exposed through the facade. The five buildings are connected using expansion joints, so that when he building moves they (the buildings) will not push into each other and cause damage to each other or fail structurally. The buildings themselves (as is the case with all tall buildings) utilize the method of incorporating expansion joints to alleviate damage that could be caused by the average loads placed on a building. These forces refer to the dead loads of the construction materials themselves, the live loads of the people and things that may be brought into the building, and the wind loads that occur at the exterior of the building.
3333 Broadway has in the past been a source of controversy. Since the previous owner of the property opted out of the Mitchell-Lama program, some housing advocates asserted that as many as 300 residents moved out of the building in the course of three years and some tenants are concerned that the building will no more be affordable. In 2008, "a group led by the Legal Aid Society filed a class-action suit in State Supreme Court against the building's owner, arguing that a provision requiring that the property remain dedicated to low and moderate income housing had been removed by the City and the prior owners without proper public notice, and that this was a major contributing factor to the efforts to force residents out." The State Supreme Court dismissed the case, citing that all claims, including those of harassment, were without merit. All attempts to appeal that decision have also failed. The president of one of the building's tenant associations, Alicia Barksdale, asserts that many of the tenants believe that it is not fair for them to ever have to move, regardless of the changes in the neighborhood. "It’s not fair to have to move because the rent goes up," she said.
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