New York's public housing is in crisis. Can architects design the way out?

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has selected architects Miriam Peterson and Natan Rich of Peterson Rich Office (PRO) to dream up housing and maintenance strategies for New York City’s deteriorating public housing for the nonprofit planning think tank’s newly-funded chair of urban design. The joint appointment will give the pair the opportunity to build on past work that reimagined the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) developments.

It’s a tall order to step into a project that’s supposed to help NYCHA, the landlord for 400,000 New Yorkers, though it’s not necessarily the number of tenants that poses a challenge. The authority has been strangled by decades of under-investment, hobbled by long-running scandals, and faces an estimated $45 million backlog for repairs and capital projects. A December 2018 RPA report stated that maintaining the status quo of broken-down buildings could cost the city an additional $700 million every year that maintenance is deferred. The funding options for public housing are scarce, but nascent development plans aim to fill the gap created by missing funds at the federal level.

Over the past five years, PRO has delivered concepts for building out the roofs of NYCHA high-rises and the transforming parking lots that surround the towers into units that scale to the size of two contiguous parking spaces. This time, PRO will have more financial resources and access to RPA experts at their disposal, allowing them to explore housing provision and maintenance in-depth. 

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