Harlem's new cantilevering, gray affordable housing complex Sugar Hill doesn't hide in a crowd. In fact, its design is so focused on its exterior, that New York Times archicritic Michael Kimmelman has been driven to bemoan the new structure containing 124 affordable apartments, a ground-floor pre-school, and community activity space/children's art museum,"Sugar Hill turns out to be like an A student who crams for the big test and then forgets to bring a pencil." That pencil turns out to be the apartments themselves, which Kimmelman describes as "awkward, with angled walls, quirky layouts that tenants may find hard to furnish, and deep-set, weirdly placed windows of various sizes." The point, however, is not lost that the building will still provide affordable homes for the lucky few who are chosen from the lottery (there were over 50,000 applicants, and only .25 percent will be accepted.)
Despite its awkward interior layouts, Sugar Hill's contribution to the community is not null and void. After all, it is community and neighborliness that the building promotes, from its ground-floor pre-school and museum to the way the building is run. In its six other projects across the city, developer Broadway Housing Communities employs about one quarter of its tenants to manage the buildings' front desk throughout the day. It's an act that promotes "trust and investment, like in a town." As a result, the buildings are "among the safest and most admired projects of their type" in the city. The long and short of it, Sugar Hill is both a failure and a triumph. While much of its success hinges on the programming the children's museum will offer after it is completed next spring, Sugar Hill still brings the valuable commodity of affordable housing to the neighborhood. And the building is distinctive to boot.
· Building Hope and Nurturing Into Housing [NYT]
· Previewing Harlem's Controversial, Cantlievered Gray Building [Curbed]