Rebuilding areas impacted by extreme weather to be more resilient does not need to take the form of seawalls or oyster shoals. In the Rockaways, a singular 1920 bungalow, previously foreclosed and then flooded during Superstorm Sandy, is getting a second life as an artist residency program and neighborhood cultural node. Titled “Stilt City” as a counterpoint to the post-Sandy impulse to elevate houses on stilts, the initiative seeks to achieve resiliency beyond the built environment and within a community’s social fabric.
Before Sandy, artist Robyn Renee Hasty sought to launch “a collective artists’ space to explore communal processes of making work and alternative economies,” and after the 2012 floods receded, she capitalized on the affordable abandoned property on Rockaway Boulevard. Through Architecture for Humanity and the 1% Program for Public Architecture, Hasty was linked to New York–based firm Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects (JGA). “It was toxic, really,” principal Mark Gardner told AN of he and partner Stephan Jaklitsch’s first encounter with the site’s extensive water damage, mold, and collapsed roof.
The architects also noted a marked change in the neighborhood as a whole in reaction to flooding fears. “Porches are being taken off, balconies are being enclosed, buildings are being lifted on stilts,” said Jaklitsch. “It’s cutting off life to the street.” Employing resiliency strategies to the site, however, can mean more than replacing hardscape with porous materials and installing mechanical equipment above the first story. Jaklitsch and Gardner went one step further beyond the generic list of mitigation measures and sought to protect buildings against extreme weather without compromising design integrity and access. They conceived a new roll-up door that invites local residents in for open studio days, exhibitions, and community programs. Lofted interior living quarters, ideal for storage during a flood, dramatically project outward toward the street, framing Stilt City’s programming for passersby.
The bungalow’s cladding will be activated as residents continuously change its appearance. At the rear of the house, JGA has lifted the roof upward to provide extra space for social practice-based art—all low-impact innovations that take a passive approach to the reality of the 600-square-foot site’s location one foot below the 100 year floodplain. “Architects can resist the default bureaucratic, top-down solutions of resiliency,” said Jaklitsch.
As a live-work intervention, Stilt City offers a creative alternative to the post-disaster drive to raze and raise. “It’s going to affect the way people interact, and that’s essential,” said Gardner. “You have to be able to design in a way that allows the community to be a community.”
To fund the house’s transformation, Stilt City has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise an initial $100,000.