US Building of the Week
Shakespeare, Gordon, Vlado: Architects
12. December 2022
Photo: Alexander Severin
As the demand for housing, especially of the affordable variety, in New York City outpaces the supply of new units, infill and other approaches are being used to create housing without the timely and costly need for demolition. Tres Puentes consists of two buildings built on previously empty lots astride an existing senior housing project in the South Bronx. Shakespeare Gordon Vlado Architects answered a few questions about the project.
Location: Mott Haven, The Bronx, NY
Client: West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing
Architects/Designers: Redtop Architects/Shakespeare, Gordon, Vlado: Architects PLLC
- Design Principals: Amy Shakespeare, Virginia Kindred
- Project Architect: Ashima Chitre
- Project Manager: Nicole Vlado Torres
- Project Team: Sean Kennedy, Ana Sucena
Landscape Architect: Joanna Pertz Landscape Architecture
Lighting Designer: SGVA
Building Areas/Units: 51,940 sf/56 units in East Building; 121,970 sf/118 units in West Building
Tres Puentes West (Photo: Alexander Severin)What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) was familiar with our firm after we had previously designed two small multi-family building renovation projects for them in Manhattan. When they took ownership of the much larger Borinquen Court in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, in 2010, they approached us about helping them do a major tenant-in-place renovation of that building. Here WSFSSH also saw an opportunity to expand upon the strength of the existing building’s community to bring more residents and resources to the large and underused site. We began our study of the lot’s overall potential, while working on the design of the renovations to the aging existing building, recognizing early in the process that any new construction would require approval by City Planning to relieve the site of decades old restrictions that mandated a “tower in the park” use of the site. Working closely with WSFSSH and in collaboration with the city’s planners in the years that followed allowed the project to develop into what ultimately became the Tres Puentes East and West Buildings, and to be a case study for zoning updates already in the making that would support more affordable housing throughout the five boroughs, with a focus on housing for independent seniors — a growing and thriving population of New York City.
Tres Puentes East (Photo: Andrew Rugge)
Such changes to the zoning allowed for parking lots to be transformed into housing, and for senior housing buildings to have a greater mass and height, as well as more street wall articulation. This is especially celebrated at the Tres Puentes site which is located between two entrances to the nearest subway station. Taller buildings for seniors were also encouraged with the updated zoning which Tres Puentes uses to bring many new apartments to the site, while also respecting the varied scale of the neighboring buildings. This is most dynamically expressed where the West building steps down in height from the busy corner of Third Avenue and East 138th Street towards the three-story houses to its north.
Tres Puentes West (Photo: Alexander Severin)Please provide an overview of the project.
Named after the three neighboring bridges connecting the South Bronx to Manhattan, Tres Puentes added two new ground-up buildings to the Mott Haven site of the existing Borinquen Court, originally constructed in 1981. The new eight and eleven story structures are attached at ground level to this existing six-story building, which the architects renovated in 2014. Combined into a campus, these three buildings transform the nearly two-acre site into a vibrant and unique home for hundreds of seniors. Their welcoming designs energize both East 138th Street and Third Avenue by lining the once vacant street wall with entrances to the site’s senior center, health clinic, and pharmacy, serving the project’s residents and connecting to the larger community.
Site Plan (Drawing: SGVA)
This project adds 174 affordable apartments for independent seniors to the 145 already on site. Each is designed to support the various and changing needs of the residents, allowing them to age with grace and independence with amenities in their apartments and community spaces. These design features are enhanced by on-site services provided by WSFSSH and their partners, which include case management, medical and mental health care, and educational and socialization opportunities. The architecture of Tres Puentes also encourages wellness through active design, as the residents of each building are invited to move through indoor and outdoor paths in all three buildings, to various shared community rooms, offices, and outdoor gardens.
Tres Puentes West (Photo: Alexander Severin)What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
Since the project was envisioned as a campus, the new buildings were designed to be in dialogue with our renovations to the Borinquen Court, with gardens carefully set between and around the three buildings, and a consistent yet playful material language. The elegant brickwork of the new building street facades refers to the masonry vocabulary common to New York City, and specifically to the Borinquen Court’s original red-brown brick and renovated iron spot accents, as well as its landmarked townhouse neighbors and the nearby New York City Housing Authority campuses. The facades facing Borinquen Court, and the site’s gardens are clad in brilliant copper and navy-blue corrugated steel panels — a nod to the industrial parts of Mott Haven. These colors also punctuate the street facing brick facades at each window with a surround that also nods to those added by the team to Borinquen Court.
Tres Puentes West Connecting Courtyard (Photo: Alexander Severin)How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
The nearly two-acre Tres Puentes site extends from the mid block of East 138th Street in the Bronx to the corner where it is ends along Third Avenue. The new buildings are located to the east and west of the existing building, each site hugging its street wall, following the city’s current zoning, and activating the sidewalk. The resulting size and shape of each building responds directly to the available open space and the distance from Borinquen Court. At eight stories, the East building is rectangular in plan and therefore constructed in block-and-plank, while the 11-story cast-in-place concrete West building follows the site’s irregular corner.
In addition to the site’s shape and existing building, the neighborhood context informed the design. Tres Puentes is located between two entrances to the nearest subway station, so the architects wanted to ensure ease of access to all entry points; they also emphasized movement through the buildings, with bridges, canopies and courtyards connecting the buildings themselves and the adjoining streets.
Tres Puentes West Connecting Courtyard (Photo: Andrew Rugge)How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
The project’s design took many forms as the team explored the potential rezoning for the site. A variety of massing concepts and configurations were imagined during the years that the architect worked with the city and community. Very few changes were made from the construction documents to the final buildings due to our thorough research of the site’s existing conditions and surroundings.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.