five finalists are announced for the ‘big ideas for small lots NYC‘ housing design competition, organized in response to new york city’s surplus of narrow and anomalous lots, owned by the city and vacant for decades. launched in february 2019 by the city’s department of housing preservation and development, the competition is a call for architects, rather than developers, to address the challenges associated with the design and construction of affordable housing on 23 of these undesirable and difficult-to-develop lots. while a typical townhouse measures at approximately 20 feet in width, the collection of proposals are each designed to maximize the limited space on lots as narrow as 13 feet wide.


after critical analysis, the five winning proposals were selected by a panel of nine jurors — all leaders in the fields of architecture, urban design, real estate development, and public policy. each entry was evaluated on its design, replicability, and practicality of construction. the residential units are anticipated for buyers selected through the city’s affordable housing lottery, although the department has yet to established an income limit.


anawan/101 + kane AUD: mass green living

big ideas small lots NYC
the open facade is characterized by street-facing gardens
images courtesy of kane AUD and anawan/101



ted kane, principal of kane AUD and jeremiah joseph, principal of anawan/101 describe the sustainable and affordable winning entry:our proposal explores how affordable housing can promote healthy, sustainable living while elevating concepts of community. these ideas coalesce in our urban garage, a public extension of each apartment everyone shares for simple tasks and social activities. each individual unit uses open, through-floor designs to provide cross ventilation and maximum natural lighting.’

big ideas small lots NYC
each individual unit of the ‘urban garage’ expresses an open, through-floor organization



the new york-based design team continues:additionally, front and rear exterior gardens in the apartments supply planting space and solar shading. for the structure of the building cross laminated timber is employed for its precise nature, sustainable construction, and warm finished appearance. when combined together we believe this toolkit of solutions can be readily used to provide healthy, affordable living throughout new york city.’

big ideas small lots NYC
cross-laminated timber offers a warm, finished appearance



michael sorkin studio: greenfill housing as garden

big ideas small lots NYC
the non-traditional housing plan engages local community resources
images courtesy of michael sorkin studio



michael sorkin, principal of international design practice michael sorkin studio comments:our design pushes the limits of environmental friendliness, explores new and economical construction methods and materials, provides ‘non-traditional’ accommodation for today’s market, engages local community resources in building and training, and seeks to be the best possible neighbor in differing social and physical circumstances. we investigate ‘net-zero’ architecture and its infrastructures as well as accommodation for a diversity of lifestyles.’

big ideas small lots NYC
the entry is the result of an investigation of ‘net zero’ architecture and its infrastructures 



sorkin, president and founder of terreform, continues:individual units are small lofts, augmented by shared spaces, including a ground floor co-working, studio, or meeting room, a congenial roof-top, and a small ‘hotel’ room for guests. we’ve been especially engaged with offering a new prototype for daylighting in this typical party-wall situation.’

big ideas small lots NYC
allowing for a diversity of lifestyles, the residential proposal includes a co-working studio and small hotel room



OBJ: fold and stack

big ideas small lots NYC
generated with techniques of folding and stacking, the project transforms the site from an obstacle to a catalyst
images courtesy of OBJ



OBJ, a design collective which engages in the realms of art, architecture and urbanism, comments:what do you do when you have limited space? you fold and stack. our proposal seeks to turn the subject-site’s small footprint from a design obstacle into a design catalyst. by introducing a double-height typical unit ‘fold & stack’ seeks to minimize the unit’s footprint, consolidate services into a modular wet core, and maximize reconfigurability across as many sites as possible.’

big ideas small lots NYC
the typical double-height organization minimizes each unit’s footprint



the studio continues:the double-height design brings more of the unit to the exterior of the site — allowing greater access to natural light and ventilation. a combination of prefabricated elements and cross-laminated timber panels allows for fast construction and minimal on-site labor.’


only if: system for narrow living

big ideas small lots NYC
the compact project avoids the infrastructure typical of bigger buildings such as an elevator
images courtesy of only if



new york-based design practice only if comments:buildings on small lots need to avoid taking on the obligations of larger projects. for 113 west 136th, our proposal strategically avoids the infrastructure of bigger buildings such as an elevator, resulting in an efficient and compact vertical core. this, in turn, provides more space to vary its seven units, which range from a micro-studio with a front stoop, to studios and loft studios, to a one and two-bedroom unit.’

big ideas small lots NYC
the compact vertical core provides more space to vary its seven units



the team elaborates on the project’s diverse range of spaces:this mixture is envisioned to create a stronger community of diverse residents. within each unit, a thickened wall of prefabricated components addresses the challenges of small units and accommodates services, storage, kitchens, and circulation within loft units.’


palette architecture: more with less

big ideas small lots NYC
the community-driven proposal allows residents to benefit from shared resources and increased agency
images courtesy of palette architecture



palette architecture, comments on the winning proposal:our ‘more with less’ proposal seeks to economically house residents in community-driven, contextually-appropriate developments. by leveraging pre-fabrication practices and opportunities inherent on small sites, we can offer affordable construction that maximizes the number of residents served and minimizes costs. the proposal operates within the current code and zoning standards to create micro-communities where residents benefit from shared resources and increased agency.’

big ideas small lots NYC
the team leverages pre-fabrication practices and opportunities inherent on small sites



the team continues: because of its scale, each community’s collective identity is wholly defined by its members, who have an individual stake in forming the physical environment. common kitchens, unprogrammed flex spaces, exterior spaces, and semi-private interior terraces provide residents with scalable levels of privacy which become the armature for unique and organic community growth.’


competition info:


organizers: new york city department of housing preservation and development (HPD) and the american institute of architects new york (AIANY).