The acclaimed architecture, interiors and urban design practice Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners has announced several new multifamily housing and mixed-use commissions and concepts with innovative, community-enhancing designs and amenities that set valuable new directions for neighborhood designs and more affordable living options. A key goal of the works is to increase “community wealth and wellness,” according to the internationally recognized firm.
The new commissions include the intensive rehabilitation of 73 units in New York City’s Harlem to create healthier and more energy-efficient homes for the West 139th Street Cluster, led by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (HCCI). Geared toward low- and moderate-income households, “The cooperative apartments will be completely renovated late this year with refurbished interiors and high-quality materials as well as new, state-of-the-art windows and mechanical systems incorporating passive-design principles,” says Victor F. Body-Lawson, AIA, founding principal of Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners.
A second new work highlighting Body Lawson Associates’ growing visibility and design leadership among faith-based communities — including mixed-use developments, residences, commercial spaces and new houses of worship — is the Iglesia de Dios Senda de Bendicion development in the Bronx. Conceived with a new, 6,745-square-foot church on the ground floor as well as 43 low-income residential units topped with green roof terraces, the wellness-oriented complex calls for new mixed-use space with a community center and recreation room.
Another project incorporating a church is the larger-scale Fort George Hill development underway in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, a 12-story, wellness-oriented community of 146 residences adjacent to a mass transit station. Offering residents a gym, bicycle storage, and recreation space on the rooftop levels, the curving building by Body Lawson Associates also allows about 10,000 square feet of space on the lower floors for the Movimiento Mundial Church.
These newly advancing projects reflect the architecture firm’s focus on community engagement to lead a complete rethinking of how housing can be more responsive to shifting urban needs. “Given the change in national housing dynamics due to the pandemic, social distancing and advancements in remote communication, there will be a need to rethink affordable strategies,” says Body-Lawson, who recently spoke at a panel on these housing trends, “Our Fair City,” convened by the Museum of the City of New York.
Body Lawson Associates, also known as BLA, has gained visibility in large-scale affordable housing works with mixed uses that prioritize job creation, community stability and resident wellbeing, including its role designing Marcus Garvey Village, a 19-story housing development with 169 units of affordable housing in Manhattan’s West Harlem. The firm is also working as architect with WXY architecture + urban design for The Peninsula, a new, 740-unit mixed-use campus that is 100 percent affordable and includes a wide mix of uses from an artisanal food hub and fresh grocer to a health and wellness center and film production studio. The live-work community embraces a large new green space on the 4.75-acre site in the Bronx.
Building on the ideas behind these new commissions, Body Lawson Associates has collaborated with multidisciplinary teams on new “community centers for living” concepts that merge low-income housing with empowerment centers for youth and seniors, community farms with cooperative markets, coworking and recreation spaces, and laundry rooms on every floor. The affordable developments also integrate more windows and extensive facilities and outdoor areas for mental and physical wellbeing — from primary-care clinics and supportive services for the formerly homeless to holistic life centers, yoga rooms, roof running tracks and gyms that open onto outdoor terraces. The highly amenitized community centers for living also include more active design elements such as stairs and other walkable zones, indoors and outdoors.
“Our main goal is to create a new development model with programming and architectural approaches that support community wealth and wellness,” says Body-Lawson. “This is a systematic and carefully calibrated approach for building social equity and wellbeing that many local government leaders will champion also.”
In this way, affordable housing designs are now leading market-rate developments in their exceptional use of community-based amenities and socially conscious uses. Body Lawson Associates has led this drive in recent years with widely recognized building projects such as his 2020 Home Street Residences in the Bronx, an innovative low-income housing development for seniors with a community space for a teen support and video gaming center. The memorable, 63-unit development offered a bold statement during the pandemic crisis while paying homage to its site and community.