Project 2x30 - NYC Net Zero Public Housing Project

Year: 2017

Project Architect: Timothy Ung

Location: 225 West 28th Street, New York, NY 10001

Project Brief:

The Net Zero Public Housing project was designed as a response to the New York Affordable Housing Challenge competition. Here’s the brief that all competitors were given:

“In the words of Bill de Blasio, New Yorkers have a “crisis of affordability” on their hands. This is a crisis built upon the success that the city has had in recent decades. These years have made the city safer, and more appealing, for people from all over the world to come and start businesses, studies, and their lives.

This has put a huge strain on housing stock, and has led to New Yorkers having to spend increasing amounts to cover their housing expenses and have made entire neighborhoods unaffordable.

Diversity is part of the fabric from which New York City was cut, so it is becoming ever important to ensure that New York is open for all, regardless of background.

This competition acts as a challenge to the architectural community. To those just starting out in the industry as well as those who are known across the world, the question is this. How do we use the limited resources, both in terms of plots of land and the availability of finance, to create homes and communities that can continue to be diverse and open to all?”


Here’s the program that was given to all participants:

“Design a pilot-phase concept for affordable housing within New York City, which can be easily rolled out to increase capacity of housing stock, and is minimal in its use of land and materials.

No minimum size or amount of the residential units per block is defined. The proposals should be flexible enough to adopt in different sizes with different inhabitant capacity requirements.

Designs for the New York Affordable Housing challenge should be flexible to different locations across the city. The designs should also be adaptable, allowing adjustments to be made in order to suit different residential capacity requirements.”

Here’s my response to the competition:

As New York City’s population continues to grow and its real estate costs increase exponentially, there is an increasing number of lower and middle class New Yorkers who are unable to afford housing and are forced to move elsewhere. In addition, the existing public housing complexes in NYC are outdated, inefficient in terms of its energy performance, and uncomfortable with regard to space size and interior partition layouts. Thus, the NYC Net Zero Public Housing proposes a building that is constructed with durable and resilient materials, a high efficiency building envelope and building systems, as well as a design that incorporates passive heating and cooling to further reduce energy consumption. This proposed public housing project will provide a home designed for longevity and aging in place, minimal heating, cooling, and electric bills, and a contemporary exterior and interior aesthetic.

Material Resiliency

Using concrete as both the primary structural material for the building and interior finishes, the NYC Net Zero Public Housing project is designed for longevity and simple maintenance. Combining these two characteristics of concrete with the universally designed apartments, the NYC Net Zero Public housing project allows for families to comfortably age in place. Based on research in the historical tenement housing, 20th century public housing, and continuing trends from these two periods to the present time, it was clear that tenants of public housing projects generally age in place.

High Efficiency Building Envelope & Systems

In order to reduce the cost of living for tenants, the NYC Net Zero Public Housing project is designed with a high efficiency building envelope consisting of a thick concrete shell and backed with rigid insulation to create a super insulated facade. In addition, every apartment has a grow space with fully operable curtain walls that lead to a balcony. During colder days, the concrete floor, walls, and air in the grow space is passively heated by the sun and brought into the apartment by simply opening the French doors in the living room. During the warmer days, both the operable curtain wall and French doors can be opened to allow wind to pass through and cool the apartment.

Further reducing the cost of living for tenants, a geothermal system is installed beneath the NYC Net Zero Public Housing and radiantly warms or cools the building through the concrete floors. The rooftop of the building is covered with high efficiency solar panels to generate electricity for tenants’ use throughout the year. Ultimately, the design of the NYC Net Zero Public Housing project will reduce tenants’ cost of living while providing a contemporary and comfortable home designed for longevity and aging in place.

Flexible Public Programs

The Net Zero Public Housing project contains two public programs on either side of the main entrance for tenants. Once a site is selected, in this case the lot across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology at 225 West 28th street, the public programs will relate to its surrounding context as well as the needs of the tenants. Located across from an institute for fashion, the public programs in the NYC Net Zero Public Housing project will be a bookstore and boutique clothing store that is run by the institute. Tenants can engage with staff, faculty, and students in either the boutique store or the bookstore.

Adaptable Floor Plans & Building Height

Apartments in the NYC Net Zero Public Housing project are divided into 2 types of one bedroom apartments and 2 types of two bedroom apartments. On the apartment floors, a mixture of 1 one bedroom apartment and 1 two bedroom apartment are consolidated in a quadrant of the floor. These two units are mirrored to fill the floor and are repeated as floor plan type A, then floor plan type B, A, B, A, B, and so on and so forth. Using this system, the building’s height is limited only by its particular location’s zoning requirements.


Ultimately, the Net Zero Public Housing project provides comfortable spaces for dwelling as well as a high efficiency building envelope and systems that decrease energy consumption. All apartments are designed with a sunroom that allow tenants to grow vegetables, fruits, and plants while also passively providing heat during the winter and breezes in the summer. The Net Zero Public Housing project is designed as a place that is replicable, supports healthy living, and allows tenants to age in place with their families. 

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