Improving In Place: A Passive Solar Design Approach to Public Housing Redevelopment

SMArchS Thesis, Building Technology, Spring 2015

For the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, sustaining the city’s 178,000 units of public housing for future generations is a significant and increasingly difficult task. Faced with aging infrastructure and cuts in federal funding the city has turned to private sector partnerships for new ways to finance the upkeep of its buildings. The 2013 Land Lease Initiative, NYCHA’s unrealized plan to generate funds by renting underutilized open space to residential developers, demonstrated economic potential but overlooked opportunities to repair critical deficiencies in the urban design and energy efficiency of its public housing developments.

This thesis suggests that passive-solar design strategies can influence a more sustainable approach to public housing revitalization, integrating site-sensitive infill development with existing building upgrades. Focusing on the Douglass Houses in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I analyze how the Land Lease Initiative’s high-rise massing would worsen existing buildings’ access to natural sunlight, and I suggest an infill development model that preserves solar access to existing facades while connecting the superblocks to the surrounding urban fabric. My research then explores the application of sunspace additions to existing public housing to expand living spaces while simultaneously reducing heating demand. I conclude with a discussion of financial plausibility and larger-scale impact on NYCHA’s overall housing portfolio. This investigation aims to create an integrated process that links new development and public housing upgrades across site, building, and dwelling scales.