New York Affordable Housing Challenge

Sara Falque

We decided to enter the architecture competition, “New York Affordable Housing Challenge”, sponsored by the New York Build Exhibition. The competition aimed to create solutions for New York’s increasing housing shortage, emphasizing the challenge of creating homes and communities that can be diverse and open to all, when working with limited resources – both in terms of plots of land and the availability of finance. The task set forth was to design a pilot-phase concept for affordable housing within New York City, which could easily be rolled out to increase the capacity of housing stock, and is minimal in its use of lands and materials.

To see our proposal for the “New York Affordable Housing”-competition, visit our official website:

David Yum Architects’ proposal for the competition

Further information about the competition:

New York Affordable Housing Challenge

New York Build 2017


We approached the task by visualizing our project at four different scales; the urban scale, the building envelope, the unit layout and the interior furnishings. We launched ourselves into a research phase, focusing on sustainable architecture, from construction method and assembly, to ventilation, renewable energy and materials, and to space efficient and flexible interior layouts and adaptable furniture.

Urban Scale

We developed a scheme for the design, an S-shaped footprint, that would provide private courtyards within the plot and allow access to light and air to all units. We studied how on an urban scale this morphology could restore and repair 1. a single lot, 2. several scattered lots within the neighborhood, and 3. largely disrupted city blocks. When erecting the prototype on several adjacent lots within a city block, the courtyards and in-between spaces that are created could change depending of the orientation of the buildings.


Prefabrication of elements would speed up the building assembly and reduce the length of the construction phase, which again could help cut expenses. The exterior skin of the façade has therefore been subdivided into modules following the same measurements (width and height) to allow for prefabrication. The modules consist of three basic types; 1. the adaptive solar façade, 2. the vertical green wall, and 3. the solid and the perforated brick wall. Also, inside of the building we wish to use prefabricated elements as bathroom and kitchen modules that can be easily shipped and assembled on site.

As the long-term view of affordability places sustainability and reduced energy consumption ahead of initial construction cost, we wanted our project to use a smart façade system that could generate renewable energy, reduce heat loss and ensure healthy ventilation.

Double Skin Façade System

As a response, we employed a double skin façade system to the building envelope. The outer skin would either be a single glazed building skin or a non-insulated, partly perforated brick wall, whereas the inner skin would be a conventional thermal mass wall system. The outer skin allows controlled intake of air to be distributed and rise within the space between the exterior and interior skin. The air cavity would act as insulation against temperature extremes, winds and sound. The air cavity could be used for spaces with low occupancy, such as areas dedicated to circulation, which is why the hallways leading to the apartments are situated in this interstitial space.

Recommended reading:

“Understanding the General Principles of the Double Skin Façade System”

Building Integrated Photovoltaic System

Whereas the double skin façade can help reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling, the use of a building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system would further contribute to a sustainable housing project. By installing diamond-shaped thin-film photovoltaic-modules, mounted in frames on a cable net structure fastened to the exterior building skin and to the roof, depending on the degree the solar panels are tilted, the BIPV system could assure daylighting, views and electricity production from solar energy.

Recommended reading:

“The Adaptive Solar Façade: From concept to prototypes”

Green Wall

Going green is also about contributing to an environmental-friendly and healthy way of living. By implementing a green wall in our design, we dedicate space to vegetation along the building’s vertical axis and try to bring back nature in New York’s urban environment. We believe that implementing natural flora is not only important for the balance of the ecosystem, but is also a crucial element for our wellbeing. The green front façade helps communicate our vision behind this project; affordable housing is – when thinking in a long-term perspective – synonym with sustainability and green architecture.

Bicycle-friendly City

Healthy living means making healthy choices. By dedicating space to indoor bicycle parking, we hope residents will more often choose this environment-friendly mean of transportation, thus increasing their level of physical activity and reduce CO2-emissions from vehicles.

Flexible Interior Layout

The housing units are non-uniform pie segments of building’s curving footprint. The units are designed to be combined or split, depending on the needs of the occupant or the neighborhood. We elaborated different possibilities for expansion of the units. For instance, if a resident of one of the studio apartments wanted to establish his or her own family and therefore would need more space, the resident could purchase the adjacent unit to make a bigger apartment with one or more bedrooms. In that way, the residents can keep on living in the building even though their life situation changes. Also, if a high age results in reduced mobility, the resident could move to one of the ADA-units situated on the ground floor. The variation of housing units and the possibilities for extension and modification of existing units can reduce the “turn-over” of residents, ensuring stability to the neighborhood.

Adaptable Furniture

Making affordable housing in a densely-populated area as New York City requires high area efficiency. That is why the apartments are equipped with an adaptable piece of furniture that subdivides the interior spaces into different zones. Thanks to tracks on the floor, the furniture can be pushed back and forth, allowing i.e. to create a living area during daytime and a bedroom niche at night. This “sliding block” can hold different functions, such as a flip-down table on one side and a Murphy bed on the other side, or a closet on one side and a flip down couch on the other side. It could be ordered finished or as an open steel frame for the user to insert any standard cabinet module or to turn the sliding block into a customized piece of furniture.


Participating in the “New York Affordable Housing Challenge”-competition has taken us on a journey of discovery of new technologies for building green that are out there, waiting to be used in a bigger scale than it has been until now. Initial construction costs for implementing these new technologies might scare us away from putting them in use, but when planning in a long-term perspective, sustainable architecture is actually the most affordable solution with the highest human returns.

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