Alexander Gorlin Architects designs a modernist facade for affordable housing in The Bronx

Colorful Concrete

Alexander Gorlin Architects designs a modernist facade for affordable housing in The Bronx

The facade’s grid was inspired in part by Le Corbusier’s Ministry of Education and Health. (Michael Moran)
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Architect: Alexander Gorlin Architects
Location: Bronx, New York
Completion Date: October, 2022

Continuing two decades of work on affordable housing in New York, Alexander Gorlin Architects’ latest multifamily project, El Borinquen Residence, brings a modernist face to The Bronx’s Morrisania neighborhood. Named after the Taíno name for Puerto Rico, the project has brought 148 units to the primarily Latino neighborhood. Covering 90,000 square feet, the building reserves 90 units for young adults aging out of foster care and formerly homeless individuals in need of mental health care, while the other 57 are for low-income seniors and community residents.

interior of an apartment
All 148 units are reserved for affordable and supportive housing. (Michael Moran)

Working with Comunilife, an affordable and supportive housing developer, as their client, the design team sought to reflect the community’s existing culture inside and out while providing robust services to residents. Residents qualify for rental subsidies and can access on-site services including individual case management, mental health referrals, job readiness training, and financial literacy workshops with funding from the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative and services provided by Comunilife.

The building’s lobby contains murals by artists Aurelio del Muro and Marta Blair, based on a poem from Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. Large community and gallery spaces fill out the rest of the ground floor, open to ample sunlight and providing space to showcase work by Bronx-based artists. Red, yellow, and blue tiling frame the lobby’s elevator bank, chosen to reflect colors found in many Latin American national flags.

apartment building lobby with murals
The lobby continues the facade’s color palette while featuring the work of Puerto Rican artists. (Michael Moran)

The lot that El Borinquen Residence was constructed on runs deep from the street, meaning that the 3rd Avenue facade is the building’s only main frontage. While the exterior walls are set back from neighboring buildings, the building’s ten-story height rises prominently over the block. This visual continuity of the tricolored interior tiling extends to the facade, specifically on the 3rd Avenue–facing concrete grid which is brightened by metal panels in the same colors.

The facade has a Tropical Modernist feel, as much as one can in New York City. Alexander Gorlin Architects principal Alexander Gorlin told AN that Le Corbusier’s Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro—whose flat-faced facade features extensive glazing in a concrete grid—and Paul Klee’s paintings with a “central burst of color and light” were specific inspirations for the facade. While the design team considered brick, cementitious boards, and Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) for the facade, they ultimately stuck with concrete.

detail of an apartment building facade
The concrete facade was entirely cast-in-place as the site was inaccessible to cranes. (Michael Moran)
exterior of an apartment building entrance
The entrance is set back from the street, and connects to an interior courtyard for residents. (Michael Moran)

Project architect Quncie Williams said that “the biggest environmental concerns for the facade were to prevent thermal transfer and to reduce noise pollution from the busy street outside.” Alexander Gorlin worked with Steven Winter Associates, who have extensive experience with affordable housing projects in New York, on the project’s environmental concerns. The density of street traffic also posed challenges for the construction process. Given the depth of the lot, in addition to traffic levels, cranes could not be brought on site. This meant that a block and plank structure, typical for affordable housing projects in the city, was not viable, and contractors had to pour concrete to cast-in-place the entire facade.

Isometric rendering of an apartment building within its block
The building’s deep lot left one primary street-facing facade, while open-space for residents was moved to the roof and interior courtyard. (Courtesy Alexander Gorlin Architects)

El Borinquen Residence marks a fully affordable project, rather than mixed market rate and affordable, reminding New Yorkers that the face of an affordable housing project can reflect the existing community. State Senator Luis A. Sepulveda spoke to this point in a press release shared on the project, “With this we add 148 apartments, and they will become homes for our people. I make the reference to home, because a place to live is not the same as a dignified, humane and safe place that becomes a home. With a $62 million investment, the help of public officials and private enterprise and the convention of improving the lives of our people, today El Borinquén is a reality. This name is very special to me because it speaks of my land and the land of my parents, Puerto Rico. Welcome to your new home ‘Borinqueños’.”


Project Specifications