Slab, corridorSlab, gallery-access, skip stopSlab, corridorSlab, double-loadedTower
Davis, Brody & Associates (Lew Davis, Sam Brody) | New York, USA | 1967
Image of Riverbend
View of the group of 10, 15, and 18- story slabs and towers along the river.

ArchitectDavis, Brody & Associates (Lew Davis, Sam Brody)
CityNew York
Address5th bet. 138th & 142nd st.
Building TypeSlab, double-loaded
Slab, gallery-access, skip stop
Number of Dwellings624
Date Built1967
Dwelling Typesstudio, 2, 1 & 2 BR flats; 1, 2 & 3 BR duplexes (200)
No. Floors10, 15, & 18
Section Typegallery-access, skip stop, flats.
Exterior Finish
concrete frame, brick
Construction TypeRC frame, flat slab
Ancillary Services250 parking spaces, 10,000 sq. ft. shopping

The firm of Davis and Brody designed several middle-income housing projects in the 1960’s and 1970’s that were probably unmatched for design quality in the post-wars years of housing construction in New York City. Their work set the standard for building in difficult places with the almost impossible programmatic and budgetary restrictions characteristic to public-sponsored housing. Beginning with Riverbend in East Harlem, their first large housing development, this work includes Midtown Plaza, in lower Manhattan (1972-74), 2440 Boston Road, in North Bronx (1972), Lambert Houses, in the Bronx (197), The Urban Development Corporation projects at Harlem River Park (1975), Coney Island (1975), Cathedral Parkway (1975), and the Yorkville and Ruppert Towers in Manhattan’s upper East Side (1976).

Riverside occupies a difficult triangular site along the Harlem River between the 6 lanes of Harlem River Drive and 5th Avenue that was the former site of the Jacob Ruppert brewery. The site is divided into two parts that are separated by a ramp to the elevated highway along the river. Seven buildings, two towers containing flats—one 14 and one 18 stories high—and five, 10-story duplex blocks define 2 playgrounds and courtyards on top of the parking garages and form an arcaded wall for several blocks along 5th Avenue. The big slabs form a more-or-less continuous wall of varying height along 5th and step back along Harlem River Drive defining a series of triangular plazas including two interior courtyards. The busy lanes of traffic along the river compromise the waterfront location, however, there are spectacular views of the river landscape from the public spaces and the upper apartments.

The towers are conventional, double-loaded blocks with studio and one and two bedrooms flats. The 10-that story slabs that connect to the towers for elevator access are open-gallery access, skip-stop types containing 1, 2, & 3 bedroom maisonettes. The galleries are two stories high with a 5-foot wide passageway and several steps that lead to a small walled patio that forms a threshold to each dwelling and a semi-private outdoor space off each kitchen that recalls the traditional New York stoop. These buildings are organized on a narrow module with kitchen and living at the entrance and bedrooms above. Borrowing space from adjacent slots can vary the number of bedrooms. Additional fire stairs connect to the gallery. The second means of egress is through adjacent apartments via a connecting balcony, is an idea first used by in the US by Sert & Jackson in the Married Student Housing at Harvard in 1965. In effect, the dwellings are organized as 5, row houses stacked to get a 10-story building with a very tall, deep gallery that lets light into the upper floor of the maisonette and crates space for the small, walled patio area. This single-loaded, gallery access type is common in some European countries, but is rarely used in the US particularly for subsidized housing.

Exposed concrete structural frame and flat slab construction is used throughout. A double-sized brick was developed to save costs. The frame is revealed in the freestanding columns of the arcaded base and the open galleries and as the continuous edge beam. Brick, sliding aluminum windows, and below the window, a vertically striated concrete panel, alternate as the infill materials. Most dwellings have small balconies. Parking is located beneath the plaza areas. Riverbend received the Bard Award for Excellence in Civil Architecture and Urban Design in 1969.

Abercrombi, Stanley, “New York Housing breaks the mold”, Architecture Plus, Nov. 1973, pp. 62-79.

Blake, Peter, “Riverbend Houses”, Architectural Forum, July 1969, pp. 44-55.

De Chiaraa, Joseph, Time Saver Standards for Residential Development, McGraw-Hill, N.Y. 1984, p. 358.

Macsai, John, Housing, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1982, pp. 446-7.

Newman, Oscar, Defensible Space, MacMillan, N.Y., 1972, pp. 121-31.

Pluntz, Richard, A History of Housing in New York City, Columbia University Press, N.Y., 1972, pp.294-5.

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