Senior Housing: Unique Mixed-Use Building in Harlem Designed by Michielli + Wyetzner Architects

Levent OZLER

As one of the first mixed-use buildings in Manhattan that includes assisted living, this six-story, 50,000-square-foot complex in New York City’s East Harlem will be home to a combination of commercial and not-for-profit tenants not often found in the city. Set on a busy site at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 126th Street, the structure includes ground floor retail space, two floors of office space and three floors for assisted living. And it does so in a building where strategic design moves energize and lighten its bulk.

On the top three floors is the assisted living facility, planned for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities and run by AHRC, a not-for-profit organization that serves this population. On the third floor is Sinergia, a not-for profit that provides human services to minority populations and those with disabilities that often have difficulty in accessing them. Negotiations are underway for tenants on the ground and second floors.

While the spec building, which was developed by ddm development & services, completely fills its site, its architect, Michielli + Wyetzner Architects (MWA), has employed subtle design moves that visually lighten and break its mass. “We divided the second through fifth floors into two, two-story brick volumes,” says Frank Michielli, “and clad them respectively in light and dark gray glazed brick. The narrow band of recessed windows on the third floor marks the break between the two volumes.”

A band of floor-to-ceiling windows on the ground level appears to lift the mass off the site. The sixth floor is set back 15 feet and is not visible from the ground. Using brick as the dominant material helps set the building apart from the more common glass-walled structures being built today and gives it additional presence.

Recessed within the brick walls are strips of windows that provide additional variation. The architects inserted a single long strip of windows in the light gray mass while introducing a pattern of operable windows in the dark gray volume that are positioned in relation to the layouts of the residential suites. The glazed brick reflects the ever changing daylight to provide continual variety on the fa├žade. Because the uses of the building are so distinct, there are separate entrances to the commercial and residential floors. The structure also incorporates a Con Ed substation which is contained by thick concrete walls that isolate and protect it.

The developer and architect included sustainable features wherever possible, including a green roof on the setback to offer a “lawn” view to residents on the sixth floor. All glass has a low E rating and wherever possible, green materials are used in the interiors.


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