Sugar Hill Development
New York, NY, USA
Saky Yakas / SLCE Architects (Architect of Record)
Broadway Housing Communities - Ellen Baxter
Wade Zimmerman Ed Reeve
The architectural response is a textured slab building, which crowns a 76-foot base that steps back at the ninth floor to create a ten-foot terrace and cantilever on opposite sides. Terraces are placed on the second, third, ninth and roof levels. Abstractly referencing the intricate masonry ornament and the articulation of the row-house bays of the neighboring buildings, the cladding resonates with the fact that the site falls within the “heritage rose” district. The building’s skin is achieved with rose embossed graphite tinted pre-cast panels. The roses are set to varying sizes and depths to enhance the play of light across the surface. The fenestration accentuates the vine-like qualities of the rose pattern while also providing an abundance of natural light and views from the apartments. The cladding panels sparkle in the sunlight, allowing the building to shimmer throughout the day. The graphite color also serves as a contrast to the luminous glass band at the base, which frames the public entry plaza and wraps around the entire perimeter, creating a glowing beacon for the gateway to the Sugar Hill district. Inside, transparent glass 'moments' offset the density and depth of the rose-embossed precast panels. The second floor glass band, for example, counters the heft of the precast panels above, celebrates the views to the city, and connects the building back to its urban context. Inside, there is a full-length cut – or skylight – which offers a dramatic moment of space, air and light at the heart of the building.
Initiated by non-profit developer of supportive housing, Broadway Housing Communities (BHC), and generated by a tight budget as well as the exacting parameters of the site, the concept is a high-impact solution to the challenges of deep generational poverty and homelessness in the underserved communities of Upper Manhattan. The neighboring context is a critical aspect to the design and the practice worked closely with the client and local community through a series of workshops and planning meetings to ensure the building is tied to its history and place. The site sits at the juncture of three distinct communities: Hamilton Heights (West Harlem), Central Harlem, and Washington Heights. The row houses south of the site were built in the early 20th century and housed middle class families – Oscar Hammerstein, George Gershwin and Norman Rockwell all lived in the area. The neighborhood is most famous for housing affluent African-Americans who began to move there in the 1920's and 1930's. The site bordered by 145th and 155th Street, and Edgecombe and Amsterdam Avenues was called “Sugar Hill”, because of the ‘sweet life’ that was enjoyed there. The Sugar Hill Historic District has a distinct language, with various tropes drawn from nature inscribed onto its buildings. You can find fern leaves, flowers, twisted vines, roses, thistle and scrolls throughout the neighborhood. These carvings are richly expressive, both in terms of the iconography as well as the celebration of craftsmanship and pride of place.
The raw materiality and the textural density of the project’s façade, coupled with its distinctive silhouette, has very quickly made it a local landmark and given it an emotional signature for the community. The building’s forecourt has become a site for community gathering, ad hoc market stalls and pop-up food outlets to mark local events. The opening of the Museum in 2015 reaffirmed the building as a community hub. Celebrating the important history of the neighborhood and signaling Broadway Housing's commitment to the community, the Museum is a vibrant arts space that reverberates with the social and cultural milieu in which it is located. Feedback from tenants and users of the building has been extremely positive, and BHC was overwhelmed by applications. As described in the New York Times (October 6 2014), “The $84 million subsidized housing complex in Upper Manhattan called Sugar Hill Development has outsize ambitions. It has been conceived to serve some of the very poorest New Yorkers, who will move into anything but a run-of-the-mill building… Sugar Hill also has a preschool for more than 100 children in conjunction with a museum of children’s art and storytelling, which will display artists from the area, along with work by kids. This takes the project beyond even exceptional subsidized housing... it posits a goal for what subsidized housing might look like, how it could lift a neighborhood and mold a generation.”