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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
Michael is editorial director of Dwell.com. He was editor of the House & Home section of the New York Times for seven years. His biography of I.M. Pei was published by Crown in 1995.