In New York City, a New Development Is Rebuilding a Community Lost 50 Years Ago
In 1967, this part of the Lower East Side was demolished—now some former residents are returning there to live in this Dattner Architects–designed senior housing project.
In 1967, New Yorkers who lived near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan were displaced from their tenement homes. The buildings were demolished to make way for an urban renewal project, but it never came. Instead, what became known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area sat vacant for five decades.
Last January, thanks to research by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and former tenants, some residents with ties to the original tenements returned to the site and moved into a brand-new 15-story building. Named the Frances Goldin Senior Apartments after a longtime Lower East Side housing activist, the building—designed by Dattner Architects for Delancey Street Associates—provides 99 units of affordable senior housing atop a base of social services and amenities.
The formerly vacant area, now Essex Crossing, is on track to become a vibrant mixed-income community. Besides office spaces, small-business incubators, a rooftop farm, and an expanded Essex Street Market, the area will provide 1,000 units of housing, half of which will be permanently affordable through a city mandate. The Goldin Apartments at 175 Delancey Street are the first completed parcel.
Dattner’s building is already providing services to residents and the community. NYU Langone operates a health clinic and a social service center out of the four-story plinth, which is clad in charcoal-colored brick with large, loftlike windows that bring daylight deep into its interiors. Grand Street Settlement, one of the Lower East Side’s historic social service institutions, has also taken up residence in the base of the building, with a community center and a café that serve the neighborhood at large. An adjacent terrace provides outdoor space for special events, yoga classes, and tai chi. “You get 50 seniors out there doing their thing,” says Daniel Heuberger, a Dattner principal. “It’s like a little public park.”
The residential tower, with lighter brick cladding and a disciplined grid of windows, is oriented from north to south to maximize daylight and provide views of the Lower East Side or the rooftop gardens on the fourth and fifth floors. The east and west elevations feature playful, staggered windows that bring variety to apartments without altering floor plans. Dattner added a large lobby—an anomaly in affordable senior housing—with a view of Delancey Street for added social space. Inside the residences, a light, neutral palette lessens glare and is gentle on older eyes. All apartments are ADA compliant and configured as one-bedroom units (as opposed to studios typical of senior residences) to accommodate couples, caregivers, or visitors.
As more of the buildings at Essex Crossing are completed—plans include offices, a movie theater, and a bowling alley—old and new visions of the neighborhood will combine to create a story yet to unfold. “Our primary goal,” says Heuberger, “is to keep people in the neighborhoods that they’ve lived in for a long time and keep them there as long as possible.”