It’s rare that an affordable housing project is recognized for its amenities or high quality of design, but The Schermerhorn House in Brooklyn has managed to do both. When it was built in 2009, it was praised as being “about as sexy as supportive housing gets” thanks to its gym, outdoor gardens, ground-floor performance space, and sleek facade. Now, two years later, the building has won the 2011 AIA Housing Award, which recognizes the best in housing design. Designed by Susan T. Rodriguez of Ennead Architects, The Schermerhorn combines sustainable building elements with affordable housing to create an attractive apartment complex.
Located in Boerum Hill on the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, the building was developed by Common Ground Community in cooperation with co-sponsor The Actors’ Fund. It is a supportive housing project for adults transitioning out of homelessness, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and low-income community residents (with a preference going to those working in the performing arts and entertainment industry). The nine residential floors each have twenty studio units and a 4-bedroom suite with two shared bathrooms and a common kitchen.
Four steel trusses within the foundation cantilever the building over the subway lines that run below the building. The primary north-facing facade consists of five translucent channel glass tower elements that are meant to reflect the rigorous program housed inside building. On the transparent ground level, the lobby and retail spaces are visually and spatially open to invite the public in. A multi-purpose space is used for performances, tenant meetings, and community activities for groups in the neighborhood. The south side of the building has a garden terrace on the second level to ease the transition to the low-level surrounding residential area.
A variety of sustainable design principles were incorporated into the building. A high percentage of the glass facade consists of post-consumer waste glass, and it has a Low-E glazing to optimize thermal performance. Energy efficient appliances were installed in the apartments, along with an efficient HVAC system. Additionally, a green roof helps to reduce heat island effect.
As the AIA jury noted, “This [design] rises above the aesthetic previously associated with affordable living. This is architecture in which anyone would feel at home.”
Images © David Sundberg/Esto