Vertical panels of standing seam copper wrap Architecture in Formation’s 37 Hillside Senior Apartments

Holy Ground

Vertical panels of standing seam copper wrap Architecture in Formation’s 37 Hillside Senior Apartments

37 Hillside Senior Apartments is perched on a wooded hill in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. (Michelle Rose Studio)
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Architect: Architecture in Formation
New York
Completion Date:

New York City–based firm Architecture in Formation (AiF) has delivered 164 units of 100 percent affordable housing to Inwood, a neighborhood on the Northern tip of Manhattan. The 37 Hillside Senior Apartments sit on a sloped site which was formerly occupied by a mid-century chapel, Rocky Mount Baptist Church. The church sold the lot with the stipulation that space be allocated to the church within the new building. Taking full advantage of the air rights above the former church, 37 Hillside rises 9 stories.

Coconut Properties and RiseBoro Community Partnership co-developed the property. RiseBoro is a nonprofit organization which develops and manages affordable housing in all five boroughs of New York City.

The street facing facade, clad in standing seam copper, curves gently along Hillside Avenue. (Michelle Rose Studio)

The street-facing facade is clad in standing seam copper panels which will oxidize over time, transforming from an autumnal-bronze color to a green patina. Paulo Flores, studio director of AiF, told AN, “we wanted to reference nature… How rare is it to have a hilly wooded site in New York City? Copper is a natural material, it will change over time. It has the kind of orange which references fall leaves, in some ways it references the brick across the street. So it’s within that kind of living material palette.”

Within weeks of installation, the copper panels began to show signs of oxidation. (Michelle Rose Studio)

Typically, standing seam copper is used as a roofing material. In this case, it was applied vertically. AiF worked closely with Larry Peters, architectural liaison of the Copper Development Association to specify the copper for the front facade. The copper sheets conceal six inches of Rockwool insulation supported by fiberglass ziggurats which prevent heat transfer. The east, west, and south elevations are clad with exterior insulation and finishing systems (EIFS), a synthetic alternative to stucco.

The color of the copper began to change quicker than initially expected. Flores commented, “When it first went up, it was really shiny. And we thought it was going to take a few months before we noticed it starting to change. And within a few weeks, you saw it starting to change. So it hasn’t gone to the duller brown yet, but you saw a lot of the reds. And then some kind of purpley blue colors that are coming out of it.”

EIFS, an affordable and synthetic stucco alternative was used for the east, west, and south elevations. (Michelle Rose Studio)

A synthetic stone composite was used on the first floor of the street-facing facade to emulate Manhattan Schist, which comprises the island’s bedrock. Manhattan Schist features prominently in the topography of Central Park and Fort Tryon Park, where the bedrock comes to the surface.

Because of the project’s low budget as an affordable housing development, it was value engineered to reduce cost. Lower quality light and plumbing fixtures were used to stay within budget. Originally, the design team had intended to use a channel glass system for the facade but this was reduced to a window-wall system with lower quality glass.

Inside, the building is decorated with floral patterned hallway carpet and colorful millwork. (Courtesy AIF)

Riseboro is a pioneer of Passivhaus certification for affordable housing in the United States, first achieving the certification with the completion of the Knickerbocker Commons apartment building in 2014. Most of their project portfolio designs achieve Passivhaus standards.

Passivhaus standards require extreme insulation, high performance glazing, air tightness, reduced thermal bridging, and heat recovery ventilation.

Though 37 Hillside includes all of the aforementioned conditions, the building has not achieved certification because of failure to meet primary energy demand requirements. The density of the units, which are all around 300 square feet, intensifies internal heat gain from appliance usage. Furthermore, primary energy demand calculations include transmission losses from Manhattan’s energy grid which is neither clean nor efficient.

37 Hillside manages to fit in with the surrounding post-war brick buildings. (Michelle Rose Studio)

Nonetheless, the project was certified by NYSERDA and Enterprise Green Communities (EGC). 37 Hillside achieved more than double the energy reduction amount required for the NYSERDA certification.

The building also includes a balanced ventilation system, a huge wheel that removes exhaust air from the units to heat a fiber core. This allows for continuously cycled fresh air to circulate throughout 37 Hillside without losing the energy of exhaust. For domestic hot water, the building uses LG’s hydro kit, a heat pump system.

Rocky Mount Baptist Church will occupy the first floor of the building. (Courtesy AIF)

The first floor of the building is occupied by Rocky Mount Baptist Church. Because of the incline of the site, the first level only receives sunlight from the street-facing facade. The church sanctuary was placed in the back of the building, set within the slope of the hill, to improve acoustics and sound insulation.

The significant slope of the site also imposed difficulties during the construction of the building. During geotechnical surveying, the depth of the load-bearing strata was calculated incorrectly, requiring deeper pile placement than originally expected.

The square cutouts in the sanctuary ceiling will provide natural light within the space. (Michelle Rose Studio)

The sanctuary is positioned directly below the main courtyard. The lack of natural light in the space was overcome with the use of Sola Tube skylights which burrow from the courtyard down into the sanctuary below. The Sola Tube consists of a glass cap on top which collects light and is fed through a highly reflective tube to another translucent cap on the bottom. This allows for natural lighting within the space while eliminating solar heat gain.

Many of the units overlook a central courtyard which gives the building a distinctive U shape. (Michelle Rose Studio)

Columns within the below-ground sanctuary help to support the midpoint of the courtyard above. In the courtyard, two mounds of soil will be placed to support trees and other plant species. These mounds, and the trees planted within them, will be structurally supported by the concrete columns in the sanctuary below.

Of the available units, 50 will be set aside for formerly homeless seniors. The completion of this project sets a precedent for further development of affordable and energy efficient housing in New York City.


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