Brooklyn Renaissance

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By Michael Cannell / Published by Dwell
Thanks to a group of young Brooklyn architects, an immigrant neighborhood untouched by gentrification gets low-income housing with high ideals.

If you travel east through Brooklyn—beyond Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, and Brownsville—you eventually come to East New York. While the rest of Brooklyn is swept up in a giddy renaissance of bistros and brownstone renovations, East New York is home to some of the city’s poorest residents. This is the end of the line in more ways than one, a district of abandoned cars and Chinese take-outs with bulletproof glass.

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In the scrappy neighborhood of East New York, the design firm Della Valle Bernheimer built five buildings for low-income homebuyers.

Imagine the locals’ surprise at Glenmore Gardens, two complexes comprising five modern buildings with cedar–and–corrugated aluminum siding completed this spring on Glenmore Avenue and around the corner on Van Siclen Avenue. "Everybody stops and stares," says Gary Gilchrist, an immigrant from St. Vincent who won a city lottery that allowed him to buy one of the homes for $329,000.
"The other day two ladies asked me, ‘What kind of a house is that?’ They’d never seen anything like it."

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Shahan and Junnatul Rastgir purchased one of the homes.

Five years ago, New York asked for proposals to start replacing the dwindling stock of low-income homes. The winning bid came from Della Valle Bernheimer, a young Brooklyn design firm that co-developed the project in collaboration with ET Partners. "We wanted to find work for ourselves, but we also wanted to do something socially beneficial," says Andy Bernheimer. Rather than design all five structures themselves, Bernheimer and his partner, Jared Della Valle, took the helm on two and assigned the other three to other young firms—Architecture Research Office, BriggsKnowles, and Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis. Della Valle likes to call it a "do-gooder Sagaponac," referring to the subdivision of high-end homes by well-known architects in the Hamptons.

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Amelia and Lynette Deroy have found a strong sense of community, in addition to first rate design, at Glenmore Gardens.

They agreed on a common mix of materials primarily comprised of fiber cement panels, renewable cedar siding, and recycled corrugated aluminum. The aluminum refers to the borough’s industrial past, and its horizontal pattern echoes the vinyl siding of neighboring homes. Each semidetached 2,200-square-foot home includes a small downstairs unit that can be rented out to help pay the mortgage.

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The homes were built for $108 per square foot using cedar paneling and corrugated aluminum arranged horizontally to correspond with the vinyl siding of neighboring homes.

Gilchrist and the other buyers were selected from more than 2,000 applicants. In the evenings they sit out on a modern version of the traditional Brooklyn stoop or gather in the generous family spaces configured around open kitchens. Like the best of the old Brooklyn neighborhoods, Glenmore Gardens is becoming a community. "We’re all drawing closer together," Gilchrist says. "We’re neighbors now, no matter where we came from."

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Working in one of the city’s most crime-ridden areas, the architects tried to balance

the neighborly bearing of traditional brownstones with the need for security.

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Olateju and Bosede Ogunremi can look out on the street from the safe remove of a third-floor balcony.

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