Against Adjaye’s agitprop

Sugar Hill housing project by David Adjaye. (Architectural Record)

Sugar Hill housing project by David Adjaye. (Architectural Record)

Adding to the widespread perception that British architect David Adjaye’s affordable-housing project in Harlem looks like a prison, architect Marc Szarkowski offers, on TradArch, this pertinent riposte to the recent mass exercise in droolery from the commentariat:

Let’s see, from James Russell’s article in Architectural Record:

– project has 124 apartments (really, that’s it for such a gargantuan slab?!)
– project cost “only” $59 million for construction ($89 million total)

So this works out to be $475,000 to $720,000 per apartment!!! (Even with a classroom and museum onsite – which aren’t exactly difficult, expensive programming – this is absurd.) What in blazes is going on here?!

The silver lining is that, contrary to the article’s assertion, there can be no “renaissance” with these projects because they’re simply not scalable for mass production and operation. It’s funny how all the architects blathering about “social housing” have, after all these years, still not found a way to offer mass housing at low cost,* deferring instead to manufactured housing and mobile-home companies, which scaled to meet the need for affordable housing.

*And no, the original existenzminimum [subsistence dwelling] housing projects in Weimar Germany were not a model for this. They may have been built on shoestring budgets (and they incorporated community centers and schools too, so what else is new!), but they fell apart precisely because there was no financially feasible way to operate and maintain them at mass scale.

So all architects can do is offer a handful of boutique, overpriced showpieces – Taino Towers, Via Verde, Make It Right and all the other low-income/high-art boutique box proposals in the arch mags/blogs – for a select handful of winners?! How’s that for favorable treatment for a 1%! That really is the silver lining behind these ugly-ass boondoggles – we don’t have to worry about their proliferation because they will never scale up for proliferation. They’re essentially just unicorn starchitecture for stigmatizing poor people.

Actually, I would only add that to say Sugar Hill looks like a prison is unfair to prisons.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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