This week, OHNY intern Sarah was given a tour of Via Verde, a revolutionary housing project in the South Bronx designed by a partnership between two architectural firms: Dattner and Grimshaw. Dattner Architects is known for practical and efficient housing throughout New York City while Grimshaw is known internationally for high-end design. The two firms have worked together to create an eco-friendly and boldly designed project geared toward enhancing the neighborhood.

When approaching the intersection of Brook Avenue and Bergen Street in the South Bronx, it’s immediately clear that you’ve stumbled upon something special. On a thin and irregularly shaped block that was formerly a brownfield, the developers Phipps Houses and Jonathan Rose have created a revolution in affordable housing design: Via Verde (or “the Green Way”). Conceived by Grimshaw and Dattner Architects, the entire building will serve the neighborhood and the city as a model for energy-conscious design on a more affordable scale.

Typically green design has been reserved for luxury developments, but Via Verde aims to show that environmental design can help rejuvenate a neighborhood. Green roofs, photovoltaic panels, rainwater collection, and double paned windows are just some of the green features, and the project is designed to receive LEED Gold Certification. In addition to benefiting the environment, Via Verde hopes to bring life to the street. The ground-level spaces at the north end of the property are created for businesses, shops, and a clinic to serve the neighborhood. One of the terraced green roofs has space for personal vegetable gardens, which will help the future residents have home-grown vegetables in a neighborhood where fresh produce is not easily available. The building is not yet occupied, but most of the condominium units have been sold, and the rental spaces have all been filled. Via Verde will soon be bustling with life.

The building is massed in a way that allows it to take advantage of the southern sun. The largest amount of units (which are mostly for rental) are on the north side of the property, which then tapers down to lower-rise condominiums for purchase. On the terraced roof are a series of green spaces, most of which are open to the residents for relaxation and gardening. The closed roof spaces are topped with extensive green roofs and photovoltaic panels, angled directly toward the south which provides  a significant amount of sun exposure for the majority of the day.

When walking into the central courtyard, you’re greeted with a charming space and an oversized communal “stoop.” This large staircase provides a gathering place, as well as a way to walk up to the roof without taking the elevator. These stairs lead to a roof with pine trees, which then goes up to a second roof with planters, and then the third a vegetable garden roof. The path then curves around toward the bulk of the building, and terminates in a fourth roof with sedums (a typical extensive green roof) overlooked by the future fitness center. The pathway throughout the upper levels of Via Verde represents a push toward active design through NYC’s Fit City initiative–making physical activity desirable by not hiding stairs in dark, unsafe corridors.

The tower contains most of the smaller rental units, while the low rise areas are primarily for home ownership within the condo association. The rooftops shown here are inaccessible, but contain PV panels and extensive green roofs.

The courtyard provides additional green space, and a charming area to call home. The units overlooking the inner courtyard have balconies, and all windows have louver sunshades. These shades help block sun and reduce solar heat gain in the apartments, cutting down energy costs. Bricks were used for the lower floors due to their durability, and the upper facade is made out of wooden and aluminum panels.

Ground level town homes at the south side of the development have private backyards to provide the owners their own secluded green space.

When looking south, there is a view of the 2 and 5 elevated subway tracks and a school baseball field. The existence of this field meant that the architects didn’t have to worry about someone building on this site, so they were able to take advantage of the large amount of southern sun on the area. Since the building is located close to mass transit, the project further pushes for an environmental mindset.

View north from the southern tip of the inner courtyard. A dynamic scene pulls your eyes up through the development.

Looking out into the courtyard from a condominium unit. Pops of yellow and red panels with green grass make the space especially cheery. All windows in the building are double paned, and contain a low-e coating (which lets sunlight in, but reflects rays that cause the interior to heat up). The metal frames are also isolated from the outside by a non-conducting divider between the interior and exterior panes. This insulates the apartments–if the panes were solid metal, the cool inside temperature would immediately be conducted outside.

On the second level of green roofs, these lovely planters provide another burst of color. Birds were perched on the trees, which further shows that greenery on roofs is not only aesthetically and environmentally pleasing, but also revitalizes the ecology of an area.

After walking up from the second green roof, you reach the most stunning sight: the vegetable garden located at the most southern tip of the development.

Eventually these boxes will be divided up among the residents, but for now charming markers show what vegetables are being grown.

The entire project is certainly more pleasing than some of its looming neighbors. Via Verde shows that good design should not just be reserved for luxury apartments, but can make a profound impact on lower-income neighborhoods. This vibrant building is sure to be filled with an active community in the near future.

Via Verde
Brook Avenue and East 156th Street
South Bronx

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