Nehemiah Spring Creek by Alexander Gorlin Architects

Affordable Houses Infused with Color

A rendering of the Nehemiah Spring Creek Houses, along Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.

A rendering of the Nehemiah Spring Creek Houses, along Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.

Alexander Gorlin the SoHo architect known for work on Daniel Libeskind’s Tribeca apartment and the Congregation Orach Chaim synagogue on the Upper East Side, has also designed the latest installment of the Nehemiah Houses, along Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.

The developers of the Nehemiah Spring Creek Houses at Gateway Center -row houses reserved for lower-income families -has hired Mr. Gorlin to create the 117 homes in the project, ranging in size from 1,600 to 3,200 square feet.

One-family houses, the most common type, will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, across two stories, with a five-step stoop connecting the sidewalk with the front door. Spring Creek will also include two-and three-family homes, according to Nehemiah, which is run by East Brooklyn Congregations, a 20-year-old nonprofit consortium of churches based nearby.

Starkly different in appearance from ear-lier Nehemiah houses, the exteriors of these row houses are to be infused with color. A palette of 13, to be exact: jades, slates, deep reds and creams, among others. There will also be two colors of brick. No two adjacent houses will be the same color.

The interior finishes, however, will be consistent. They are to include oak kitchen cabinets and almond-colored Formica counter-tops, and mosaic-tiled bathroom floors.

“Nowadays, people own their public housing; they don’t rent it anymore,” Mr. Gorlin said. “It’s essential that the architecture mirrors the ownership concept.”

Since the mid-1980’s, when Nehemiah began work in burned-out sections of East New York and Brownsville, it has built about 3,000 houses, according to Ron Waters, general manager of the Nehemiah Homes Development Fund.

The current group of houses, which will be modular, is being assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard by Monadnock Construction, based in Park Slope. Monadnock has been the contractor on 700 previous Nehemiah houses, though others were used in the early days, Mr. Waters said.

The site that awaits the homes is now a windswept, treeless 100-acre stretch of grass and cracked asphalt by the Queens border. To prepare it for the houses, Nehemiah will need to drive piling into the soft ground, once the site of a landfill, to strengthen it.

According to developers, the completed project will have 515 buildings with 816 housing units. They are to be ready by the end of 2007.

As that stage approaches, Mr. Gorlin said, he will also be addressing the siting of the buildings on their lots. Past Nehemiah row houses -for instance, a South Bronx grouping in the 1990’s- had their short concrete driveways placed in front. In Mr. Gorlin’s view, that suburban model cuts the house off from the sidewalk, depriving people of a place to mingle. At Spring Creek, he plans to have all the driveways in the back.

“It’s better to have the front door open directly to the street,” he said. “The sidewalk, not the driveway, becomes a place to meet and talk.”

That urban utopia will come at a modest price. After government subsidies, Spring Creek homes start at $158,000 and top out at $480,000.

Most are already spoken for. The developer originally received 12,000 requests for applications; a lottery was used to shrink the applicant pool to a more manageable 3,200.

“The response was overwhelming,” Mr. Waters said. “And they had no idea what the design would even look like.” The final 580 families will be chosen in part based on their income levels, he said.

Developers say they hope Mr. Gorlin’s approach to this project helps strengthen its sense of community -a quality somewhat lacking in other Nehemiah neighborhoods.

Parking cars behind the houses, out of sight of the front windows, could create security problems, cautioned Richard Plunz, an architecture professor at Columbia Uni-versity, who has written histories of New York housing. But he also said the facades’ bright and individualistic colors could inspire new owners to take better care of their houses.

“Pride of ownership will make them more likely to improve the value of it, to go to Home Depot like everyone else,” Mr. Plunz said. “That’s the American way.”


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