Glenwood Houses is a 1950s era housing complex comprised of 20 six-story buildings, playgrounds for children, and a senior center. Operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the complex was designed in a modified tower-in-the-park style. This is a medium-height complex instead of a typical high-rise facility. It provides a home to 2,700 residents in the Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Flaws in the original design and construction – compounded by decades of deferred maintenance – led to a systemic failure of key building enclosure components. Due to an imperfect grasp of building science issues, the buildings weren’t designed or constructed to allow for the type of expansion that occurs in both brick and concrete. This causes irreversible damage that becomes accelerated by the North East weather patterns. The systemic failure of the brick shell created life-safety hazards throughout the campus.
The flat roofs provided inefficient water mitigation from the beginning, and signs of water ponding were visible throughout. Years of maintenance reports indicated widespread and ongoing leaking at top floor apartments throughout Glenwood Houses. The design approach for this project addressed the systemic problems in order to provide long-term solutions for the Housing Authority, alleviating ongoing maintenance costs. Roofs were replaced with adequate slope and insulation, resolving leaks while modulating temperature and reducing fuel usage. The newly installed parapets are made from architectural pre-cast concrete – part of a two-piece spandrel panel, curb and coping assembly. This assembly has become a new NYCHA standard detail.
Notably, as part of our 2012 NYCHA term contract, Nelligan White developed NYCHA’s own guidelines in keeping with the State Historic Preservation Office standards. The purpose of the effort was to facilitate successful and lawful communication between NYCHA and SHPO in order to ensure the understanding of the regulatory environment in New York State regarding historic preservation and the application of these regulations within design solutions on NYCHA developments. Glenwood Houses parapet replacement served as an example of mitigating any adverse effects on the condition of potentially historic significant buildings within the development. The study behind this design solution also accounted for 39 housing developments in New York City. Streamlining this process created an effective way for NYCHA to implement the design solution throughout each of their campuses as they move forward. In one case, SHPO expressed no concern with a proposed roof replacement, however current Energy Code required the use of thicker insulation than what was in place. This is of particular interest because we sought to ensure current energy codes were met without compromising the historicity of the buildings or the loss of SHPO eligibility.
The comprehensive renovation of Glenwood Houses laid the groundwork for much of Nelligan White’s research and design for work under Next Generation NYCHA, a program whose goals include creating safe resilient communities that will “preserve New York City’s public housing assets for the next generation”.