Near Westside Story

Near Westside Story

By William Lamb / Photos by Richard Barnes
Three houses in Syracuse win a sustainable design competition and reshape an urban neighborhood for $200,000 apiece.

When Mark Robbins came to Syracuse, New York, in 2004 to become dean of the Syracuse University School of Architecture, arguably no neighborhood was more emblematic of the city’s struggles—and its potential—than the Near Westside, a once-vibrant collection of bungalows and shotgun cottages west of downtown. Many of these structures had been demolished or fallen into disrepair as manufacturing jobs disappeared and residents fled for the suburbs, eroding the area’s urban fabric.

Robbins devised the From the Ground Up competition in 2008, inviting each team to submit plans for a well-designed, efficient single-family home to be built on one of three Near Westside vacant lots for $150,000. The overarching goal was to forge new models for residential infill development that could breathe new life into urban communities across the United States. "I wanted to see if we could build houses that simultaneously made propositions about sustainability and about the possibility of constructing houses in a city like Syracuse," Robbins says.

He partnered with two regional organizations—Home HeadQuarters, which owned the land and served as general contractor, and the Syracuse Center of Excellence, which helped the architects meet sustainability goals—to construct the three winning designs. Unique mechanical and material requirements, along with Home HeadQuarters’ insistence that a basement be added to each house, nudged the price tag for each project north of $200,000. Construction was completed in the fall of 2010, and all three houses are now happily occupied by enthusiastic Near Westside newcomers.

Read about the R-House project

Read about the Ted project

Read about the Live Work Home project

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