Press

Press: Rosario Dawson’s family wants to buy low-income housing units in the East Village by Paul Castrucci

POSTED ON MON, MAY 15, 2017BY ANNIE DOGE

544 West 13th Street under construction in January, via  Paul A. Castrucci Architect  (L)

544 West 13th Street under construction in January, via Paul A. Castrucci Architect (L)

Actress Rosario Dawson’s family hopes to buy low-income apartments in a newly renovated building as part of a city program that converts abandoned homes into affordable units. Rosario grew up in an East Village squatter’s den and her family continues to live in the East 13th Street co-op, even after the actress became famous and amassed a net worth of more than $16 million. According to the New York Post, long-time tenants of the building say the Dawson family bullied their way into controlling a third of the 14-unit residence over the last 20 years.

 

The 19th-century building at 544 East 13th Street (between Avenues A and B) has been owned by the nonprofit Urban Homesteading Assistance Board since 2002, and the city sold the property for $1 each to aid the non-profit’s goal of helping squatters take legal ownership of the properties. However, its co-op conversion did not begin until 2015 and the city has spent $1.78 million for renovations. Squatters now are being given the chance to buy apartments there for $2,500 each, but they can earn no more than $53,450 per year have to live in the building at least 270 days of the year to be considered eligible.

Rosario’s mother, Isabel, who says charity work takes her out of the city much of the year, doesn’t want to adhere to the primary residency rule. During a December 2016 meeting, Isabel asked the nonprofit representative if the rule can be changed to just six months.

One of the original squatters, Annie Wilson, discovered the building in 1986 overrun by feral cats and garbage. Wilson, an activist and artist, worked with other community members to restore the building and bring in water and electricity. She told the post that Rosario financially backs her family. “She’s supportive of her parents. I don’t understand why she hasn’t acquired housing for them elsewhere so these units could be for New Yorkers in need.”

The Dawsons first landed at the East Village co-op in 1986 and were voted by other squatters to occupy apartment 4C. Although the family soon moved to Texas, they continued to sublet their unit to others, a peculiar move for tenants in this type of building. When they returned to East 13th Street, Isabel allegedly became physically aggressive with neighbors. In a 2001 letter, the president of the Tenants’ Association, Alfa Diallo, wrote, “Isabel Dawson’s threatening and violent behavior have jeopardized the safety of the residents.”

Despite these complaints, Isabel and other Dawson family members were able to stay in the building, and ss the Post reported, the family spread their squatting to other apartments, even taking over one unit while its tenant was at work. Isabel’s husband event started living in a room on the first floor that tenants hoped to turn into a gallery or music room.

Adam Leitman Bailey, a lawyer who represents the Dawsons, told the Post that after reviewing the family’s tax returns, all of them are qualified to buy the apartments. “I can guarantee you that none of them are wealthy,” he said.

[Via NY Post]

Press Bowery Boogie : Stairway to Nowhere: The Final Days of the Original ABC No Rio on Rivington Street by Paul Castrucci

Posted on: April 13th, 2017 at 5:00 am by Elie

Demolition of a half-block of Rivington Street is full speed ahead, and with it, the destruction of the both the old ABC No Rio headquarters and the former Streit’s Matzo factory. For the last several weeks, the buildings comprising 148-156 Rivington have been decimated in dramatic fashion. A combination of Bobcats, backhoes, and handtools.

It’s a sad spring for this corner, as more than one hundred years of history is now a pile of rubble and dust.

As previously reported, ABC No Rio is currently hosting programs in exile while its new “passive house” at 156 Rivington Street is under construction. The state-of-the-art facility – designed by local architect Paul Castrucci – will eventually boast larger exhibition and performance spaces (doubling the size), in addition to a green roof and second-floor terrace. The solar-equipped building will also have an elevator and carry the organization’s zine library, computer lab, print shop, dark room, and kitchen.

ABC No Rio purchased 156 Rivington Street from the city In 2006 for one dollar. Since then, the organization has raised more than $8 million in both private donations and city grants. Plans for the 9,000 square-foot, Leed-certified structure are eight years in the making.

What remains is a stairway to nowhere.

#NotOurWall : Paul Castrucci Architect firm is against the Southern Border Wall by Paul Castrucci

Wednesday morning the firm quickly and unanimously voted to take the firm pledge proposed by The Architecture Lobby.  The firm's philosophy is contrary to the spirit of the border wall as the firm consists of design professionals committed to sustainability, equity, and community.

The Architecture Lobby is calling for a national day of action on March 10th, 2017 at 4pm EST, 3pm CST, 2pm MST, 1pm PST in opposition to the building of the southwestern border wall proposed by the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security. While there are innumerable reasons to stand against the immigration policies of the current  administration and this project specifically, this call is motivated by the belief that the fields of architecture, and engineering are fundamentally rooted in a goal to improve our societies by producing structures that render them more just, more equitable, and more beautiful. The southwestern border wall stands in clear and direct opposition to this goal.

By participating in this day of action, architects and engineers will make clear not only to the current and future administrations, but also to themselves and each other, that their agency will not be exploited in the service of xenophobia, discrimination and racism. Link to full press release

FIRM PLEDGE

If your firm is against the Southern Border Wall, publicly pledge that they will not work on this project or pursue any contracts from the DHS.

Download and print the Firm Pledge and declare your firm’s commitment to  your civic and social principles!

See below to view those who have taken the firm pledge and have publicly affirmed their ethical convictions.

Press Bowery Boogie : Demolition of ABC No Rio’s Former HQ Commences on Rivington Street by Paul Castrucci

Posted on: March 8th, 2017 at 5:00 am by Elie

The proverbial wrecking ball is busy around the Lower East Side these days. It’s tough to keep up. Over on Rivington Street, half the block is currently amidst demolition. First, the Streit’s Matzo Factory. Now, on the occasion of its centennial, the tenement that formerly housed ABC No Rio is receiving the same treatment.

The city finally issued demolition permits last week, some eight months after first approving the paperwork. And despite the lack of netting and ironwork attached to the century-old building, workers have already begun dismantling 156 Rivington Street. In fact, it appears that the roof is already gone. The above photo shows the wrecking crew on the top floor with daylight visible.

One resident across the street is keeping tabs, and noted the brief reprieve during yesterday’s rains. “Thankfully it’s rainy, which keeps the dust down,” the tipster told us. “On dry days it has been flying around like crazy. And the rest of the time, the whole block smells like mold.”

As previously reported, ABC No Rio is currently hosting programs in exile while its new “passive house” at 156 Rivington Street is under construction. The state-of-the-art facility – designed by local architect Paul Castrucci – will eventually boast larger exhibition and performance spaces (doubling the size), in addition to a green roof and second-floor terrace. The solar-equipped building will also have an elevator and carry the organization’s zine library, computer lab, print shop, dark room, and kitchen.

ABC No Rio purchased 156 Rivington Street from the city In 2006 for one dollar. Since then, the arts hub has raised $1.6 million in private donations, plus an additional $6.45 million in grants through City Council members, the former Manhattan Borough president Scott M. Stringer and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Plans for the 9,000 square-foot, Leed-certified structure are nearly eight years in the making.

However, the punk institution hit a snag at the end of last year. Director Steven Englander revealed that construction bids for the eco-friendly “passive house” replacement came in much higher than anticipated and that ABC No Rio needs financial assistance. In the meantime, there’s an ongoing drive to help raise the necessary funds.

As you may recall, in 2014 we moved our project over to the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Given some of our project’s unique aspects, city officials felt that EDC would be a better fit as they allow for greater flexibility in project management and administration.

We put the project out to bid and, unfortunately, the bids came back a lot higher than our available funding. While we’re disappointed, we’re not giving up hope and continue to explore our options for raising more money and getting our dream building up and running. Remember, ABC No Rio originated from a creative action by artists who never dreamed that breaking into a building to protest the city’s real estate policies would lead to a community arts center where many several thousands of artists, activists and others have been able to connect and learn. We’ve survived years of eviction attempts and gentrification. When the city first told us that if we raised the money to develop the site, they’d give us our home, many thought that this was an impossible task. But we did it – and in 2006, the City signed over the deed.

So, far from giving up hope, we’ll keep exploring what we need to make our new home happen. We are working with EDC staff and the construction management firm they hired to determine how to best move forward with our available funds given the current challenging market and environment for construction costs.

Link to original post

2017 TED Residents : Congrats to Wendy Brawer our development partner at Further, Inc. by Paul Castrucci

Long time friend and partner for award winning R-951 Pacific Residence, Wendy Brawer, joined the ranks of the TED Residency program. Wendy Brawer is Green Map System's Founder and Director. Brawer created the first Green Map of New York City in 1992. Since then, she has published nearly 20 interactive and printed Green Maps. Wendy initiated the global Green Map System in 1995 and continues to lead its development as it spread to 65+ countries. She is an accomplished educator and has taught at NYU, Cooper Union and presented at more than 50 universities and conferences. Her accolades includes being Designer in Residence, Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, an Utne Visionary, a Woman of Earth/Terre de Femmes and recipient of a Sea Change Award.

On March 6, TED welcomed its latest class to the TED Residency program. As an in-house incubator for breakthrough ideas, Residents spend four months in the TED office with other exceptional people from all over the map. Each has a project that promises to make a significant contribution to the world, across several different fields. 

The new Residents include:

  • A technologist working on app to promote world peace
  • An entrepreneur whose packaging business wants to break America’s addiction to plastic
  • A documentarian profiling young people of color grappling with mental-health challenges
  • A journalist telling the stories of families and friends affected by deportation
  • A programmer who wants to teach kids how to code … without computers
  • A writer-photographer chronicling the lives of Chinese takeout workers in New York City
  • A scientist studying an easier path to deeper sleep

At the end of the program, Residents have the opportunity to give a TED Talk about their work and ideas in the theater at TED HQ. Link to original article 

New York–based designer Wendy Brawer is the creator of the Green Map, a tool that uses distinctive iconography to denote green-living, natural, social, and cultural resources. Locally led in 65 countries, GreenMap.org will soon relaunch with a new, open approach to inspire greater action on climate health and environmental justice among residents and travelers alike.

CITYREALTY Press : Design Phase/Pending Approval for 312-322 CANAL STREET by Paul Castrucci

CITYREALTY, "Nine-Story Passive House May Be Replacing Decrepit Stretch of Retail at 312-322 Canal Street"

By SANDRA HERRERA

The stretch of stores on 312-322 Canal Street is finally being revisited by Paul A. Castrucci Architect after the team's first proposal was denied by the Landmark Preservation Commission in 2011. Back then, the plan was to keep the retail but the design was deemed too bland for the lively area. This time around, their design is a for a residential, multi-family project that is slated to become Passive House-certified, much like their other buildings at 951 Pacific Street and ABC No Rio. Passive House principles stipulate that buildings must be primarily heated by passive solar gain and internal gains from people or electrical equipment, which saves up to 90% of space heating costs.

The proposed project will rise nine stories in the East Tribeca Historical District and will likely be rentals. According to Castrucci's site, the facade's repetition recalls the district's "notable palazzo-style, cast-iron facades, but avoids replicating or reproducing their forms, details, or material choices." In an attempt to fit in with the area, the firm chose practicality and utility over extravagance and went with a standard red-brick facade. The Passive House will have optimized energy consumptions with high-efficiency heat pumps to condition the interior units on an individual basis, while Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) will supply the apartments with filtered and conditioned fresh air. The virtually air-tight building will feature exterior brick panels backed with 4" layer of insulation.

Although permits have yet to be filed, this sad brick row of 2-story buildings is begging for a change. Illegal repair work was done to the storefronts in 2010 without the approval from the LPC and the site is plagued by past-due fines and stop-work orders. This isn't the firm's first time around the block either - literally. Paul A. Castrucci Architect also got denied by the LPC for their residential proposal next door at 308 and 310 Canal Street.

Tribeca Citizen Press : Design Phase/Pending Approval for 312-322 Canal Street by Paul Castrucci

Tribeca Citizen, "Rendering for a New Nine-Story Building on Canal Street"

There has been talk for a while about a new building at 312-322 Canal, currently the site of a wide, two-story retail building. The conventional wisdom, as espoused by a member of the Community Board 1 Landmarks Committee back in November, was that the project was on hold till the real estate market heated back up.

Perhaps not. City Realty has details on the current plan, which is for a nine-story building, most likely rental apartments, with a façade of red brick. The developer is presumably still Trans World Equities.

The stretch of stores on 312-322 Canal Street is finally being revisited by Paul A. Castrucci Architect after the team’s first proposal was denied by the Landmark Preservation Commission in 2011. Back then, the plan was to keep the retail but the design was deemed too bland for the lively area. This time around, their design is a for a residential, multi-family project that is slated to become Passive House–certified, [meaning it] must be primarily heated by passive solar gain and internal gains from people or electrical equipment, which saves up to 90% of space heating costs.

Here’s the rendering. No plans have been filed yet, and the project will be subject to Landmarks Preservation Commission approval.

Press Bowery Boogie : ABC No Rio’s Passive House Replacement Potentially Delayed Due to Overall Lack of Funding by Paul Castrucci

Posted on: January 4th, 2017 at 5:00 am by Elie

Punk haven ABC No Rio is taking baby steps toward demolition and rebuilding of their new Rivington Street facility.

The city gave its initial nod back in July, then two months later, water, electric, and sewage utility lines were each severed. The remainder of demolition awaits the official go-ahead, though, and is expected to commence in “early 2017.”

Meanwhile, director Steven Englander continues to solicit funds, and recently provided a more transparent update on progress. Namely, that construction bids for the eco-friendly “passive house” replacement came in much higher than anticipated and that ABC No Rio doesn’t have enough coin in its coffers…

As you may recall, in 2014 we moved our project over to the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Given some of our project’s unique aspects, city officials felt that EDC would be a better fit as they allow for greater flexibility in project management and administration.

We put the project out to bid and, unfortunately, the bids came back a lot higher than our available funding. While we’re disappointed, we’re not giving up hope and continue to explore our options for raising more money and getting our dream building up and running. Remember, ABC No Rio originated from a creative action by artists who never dreamed that breaking into a building to protest the city’s real estate policies would lead to a community arts center where many several thousands of artists, activists and others have been able to connect and learn. We’ve survived years of eviction attempts and gentrification. When the city first told us that if we raised the money to develop the site, they’d give us our home, many thought that this was an impossible task. But we did it – and in 2006, the City signed over the deed.

So, far from giving up hope, we’ll keep exploring what we need to make our new home happen. We are working with EDC staff and the construction management firm they hired to determine how to best move forward with our available funds given the current challenging market and environment for construction costs.

So, those punk shows will continue in exile for the duration.

As previously reported, the reincarnated ABC No Rio at 156 Rivington Street will eventually boast larger exhibition and performance spaces (doubling the size), in addition to a green roof and second-floor terrace. The solar-equipped building will also have an elevator and carry the organization’s zine library, computer lab, print shop, dark room, and kitchen.

Press: Tribeca East Historic District proposal featured in YIMBY by Paul Castrucci

Former Pearl Paint Building’s Redevelopment Stalled At Landmarks

by Evan Bindelglass for New York YIMBY

Pearl Paint, an icon at the northern edge of TriBeCa, closed over two years ago, pushed out because the rent was too high. The larger of its buildings, at 304-306 Canal Street, is already under redevelopment. Now, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is overseeing the redevelopment of 308-310 Canal Street. The agency held a public hearing on it last Tuesday, but no approval was granted.

308-310 Canal Street, 2016 and as proposed

308-310 Canal Street, 2016 and as proposed

308 Canal Street and 310 Canal Street are both four-story, through-block, store and loft buildings. 308 is Italianate in style and was constructed between 1864 and 1865. It also occupies the address 55 Lispenard Street. 310 is taller, neo-Grec in style, was designed by John J. Devoe, Jr., and built in 1879. It also occupies the address 53 Lispenard Street, and is wider on that side. They both fell under the LPC’s jurisdiction when the Tribeca East Historic District was designated in 1992.

308-310 Canal Street, existing and proposed

308-310 Canal Street, existing and proposed

The proposal for the pair is to add two stories on top to allow retail on the first floor and eight residential units above. There would be two apartments per floor on the second, third, and fourth floors, and two duplex would span the fifth and sixth floors. Grayson Jordan of Paul A. Castrucci’s Lower East Side-based architecture firm presented the proposal.

The rear (Lispenard Street) fire escape would be removed from 308 Canal Street. The façades of both buildings would be cleaned up, as would the cast iron and cornices. The storefronts would be set back 18 inches, to better reveal the cast iron columns. 308, famously white with red accents, would be treated in the same brick color as 310, with the storefront, fire escapes, and cornice in blue. The rooftop additions would be done in zinc.

Commissioner Kim Vauss said she has fond memories of shopping at Pearl Paint. “It’s a sad thing,” she said of the closure. She also lamented the loss of some of the area’s grittiness. As for the actual proposal, she applauded the restoration.

Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron called the new storefronts “fancier,” but said they make sense.

A big sticking point for many of the commissioners was the proposed two-story rooftop addition. Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy called it “overwhelming.” While some believed a two-story addition was possible, many believed a single-story addition would be more appropriate.

Manhattan Community Board 1 also disapproved of the addition, but endorsed the restoration work.

“While the window replacements are a vast improvement, HDC finds much of this application to be troubling. Though currently in poor shape, much surviving historic material exists at the storefronts to provide a road map for a more sensitive approach,” testified Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council. “Our committee felt that at the very least they should include more substantial bulkheads and that it would be best to avoid floor-to-ceiling glass. While we could imagine a one-story rooftop addition being acceptable here, the proposed addition is way too big for this building, making the entire façade appear quite top-heavy in the renderings. A better choice of materials would also go a long way toward making the addition more acceptable.”

In the end, the commissioners took no action. The applicant will have to re-work the proposal and return to the LPC, possibly with new options for both one- and two-story additions.

View the full presentation slides here:


Press Bowery Boogie : ABC No Rio Demolition Approved by the City Yesterday by Paul Castrucci

Posted on: July 27th, 2016 at 9:15 am by Elie

It’s another historic moment for ABC No Rio, currently in exile as it awaits its future. The city issued permits yesterday for the full demolition of the four-story tenement building at 156 Rivington Street, easily one of the last vestiges of Lower East Side punk.

Until the wrecking crew is mobilized, however, ABC No Rio remains a ghost town. Its entryway a shrine to the past, while a single inscription is seemingly contradiction in terms – “Fuck nostalgia, the future is unwritten.”

Brochures touting the new eco-friendly facility are also scattered around the padlocked door. Each illustrates, in greater detail, how the replacement space will be divided once fully constructed. Below is a snapshot.

As you can see, the reincarnated ABC No Rio will have an elevator and boast larger exhibition and performance spaces (doubling the size), in addition to a green roof and second-floor terrace. The solar-equipped building will also carry the organization’s zine library, computer lab, print shop, dark room, and kitchen.

But will it retain that same punk rock spirit, or become a diluted version of its former self?

ABC No Rio purchased 156 Rivington Street from the city In 2006 the for one dollar. Since then, the arts hub has raised $1.6 million in private donations, plus an additional $6.45 million in grants through City Council members, the former Manhattan Borough president Scott M. Stringer and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Plans for the 9,000 square-foot, Leed-certified “passive house” are more than seven years in the making.

The institution remains in exile for the duration, hosting shows at various third-party locations (mainly in Brooklyn). Temporary offices were set up around the corner in the Clemente Soto Velez Center.

Meanwhile, the Streit’s Matzo Factory buildings on its flank are likewise coming down. Expect ABC No Rio to follow closely.

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Press Bowery Boogie : With Demolition Looming, Final Shows at Exiting ABC No Rio Announced by Paul Castrucci

Posted on: June 8th, 2016 at 5:13 am by Elie

Lower East Side punk haven, ABC No Rio, just released its final slate of programming in their longtime Rivington Street location. The announcement comes as the arts organization prepares to demolish the current building at 156 Rivington Street, and replace with a new energy-efficient “passive house.”

The takedown and subsequent reconstruction – which should begin by end of June – will force ABC No Rio into exile for the duration. However, there still aren’t any demolition permits on file with the Department of Buildings.

This replacement is more than seven years in the making. Challenges and roadblocks abounded. Plans all along called for a 9,000 square-foot, Leed-certified “passive house” that boasts exhibition and performance spaces, in addition to a green roof and second-floor terrace. Yet, the project progressed sluggishly through a quagmire of bureaucracy and administrative red tape.

ABC No Rio purchased 156 Rivington Street from the city In 2006 the for a dollar. Since then, the arts hub has raised $1.6 million in private donations, plus an additional $6.45 million in grants through City Council members, the former Manhattan Borough president Scott M. Stringer and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

After the concurrent final shows – “InFinite Futures” and “The Past will be Present” – in comes the wrecking ball. “ABC No Rio will then vacate the building in advance of demolition and the subsequent construction of a new facility on its site,” Director Steve Englander noted in a public statement.

From the mailbag:

For Infinite Futures artists with an historical connection to ABC No Rio, from founders to current members of No Rio’s Visual Arts Collective, were invited to create installations throughout the building that imagine the site in five, fifty or five hundred years in the future.

Participating artists include Kevin Caplicki with Alexander Drywall, Peter Cramer + Jack Waters, Barrie Cline with Paul Vance, Jody Culkin + Christy Rupp, Mike Estabrook, Fly, Brian George + Kelly Savage, Julie Hair with Douglas Landau, Takashi Horisaki, Becky Howland, Vandana Jain, Mac McGill, Max Schumann, Noah Scalin, Amy Westpfahl, and Zero Boy.

The gallery will include work by four photographers for The Past Will Be Present. Jade Doskow, Vikki Law and Chris Villafuerte will show work that examines the textures of No Rio’s building on Rivington Street. Margarida Correia will present a series of portraits of ABC No Rio volunteers.

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Press in The New York Times : Umbrella House: East Village Co-op Run by Former Squatters by Paul Castrucci

By COLIN MOYNIHAN JULY 17, 2015

Umbrella House has come a long way from the late 1980s, when a handful of squatters broke into what was then an abandoned city-owned tenement house and claimed it as their home. Today, most of the early homesteaders remain and the building has been converted into a co-op that operates like many others, though with a more utopian and collectivist ethos.

On a recent afternoon Parker Pracjek, a college administrator and adjunct professor who has lived in Umbrella House for a decade, was on the roof, discussing the building’s newest undertaking: an 820-square-foot vegetable garden tended by volunteers. The garden provides fresh produce and herbs for the 32 or so inhabitants of the 18 apartments, as well as a respite from some of the rigors of city life.

“After a morning spent in a piece of nature, I just might be able to face the concrete and the throngs of people below,” Ms. Pracjek said. “We don’t always think about the grounding or sanity that comes from picking one’s own meal from a garden.”

Thirteen years ago, the City of New York ended years of conflict with the squatters of the East Village by agreeing to give them 11 buildings they had taken over. The deal included Umbrella House, so named by residents who imagined it might function as a central hub for housing activists.

Since the transfer, hundreds of squatters in various buildings have gradually made the transition from outlaw homesteaders to shareholders in strictly regulated co-ops that are subject to rules limiting both the income of buyers and the profit that sellers can earn.

Like residents of any co-op, those living in Umbrella House, at 21-23 Avenue C, between East Second and East Third Streets, have elected board members to preside over meetings, arrange the rental of commercial storefronts and review applications from potential purchasers. But at Umbrella House, which is still occupied by people who believe firmly that housing should not be defined by profit, each of those tasks is handled differently from how it might be in a more conventional co-op building.

There is, for instance, the way that new residents are selected.

From Park Avenue to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, co-op board interviews are feared ordeals in which prospective buyers are grilled about employment, investments and sometimes even where a candidate’s child goes to kindergarten. These boards typically hand down decisions by fiat with little in the way of transparency. And the prospect of appearing before them can inspire such dread that some real estate brokers instruct aspiring buyers before an interview the same way that a trial lawyer might prepare a witness for cross-examination.

At Umbrella House, on the other hand, there has never been a sale involving a broker. Potential residents are chosen from a list of friends, longtime Lower East Side dwellers or people whose lives and interests have overlapped somehow with those of existing shareholders. In many ways, candidates are vetted by Umbrella House just as carefully as they would be by other co-ops, but interviews are likely to focus more on community organizing than a credit score. All residents may play a role in meeting candidates and participating in a weighted vote, choosing up to five people in order of preference. The one with the highest vote total is then selected.

As part of the legalization arrangement, the deed to Umbrella House was transferred from the city for a dollar.  The building is now operated as a limited equity co-op and in accordance with Housing Development Fund Corporation rules, residents said. An agreement with the city specifies that buyers can earn no more than 120 percent of the median area income, which translates to about $72,000 for a single person and about $93,000 for a family of three.

There is a 10 percent flip tax on sales, and prices are capped but rise incrementally each year. Maintenance fees also rise annually, by 2 percent. These days, a two-bedroom apartment at Umbrella House goes for $161,000 with a monthly maintenance fee of $550. The building has three studios, four one-bedrooms, nine two-bedrooms and two three-bedrooms.

Steven Ashmore, an artist who was among those who used sledgehammers to enter the building in 1988, said that keeping Umbrella House affordable as the neighborhood grows ever more expensive was more important than selling for market-rate prices.

“We earned it, but it was also a gift,” Mr. Ashmore said of the building while sitting in his sixth-floor apartment. “Without the premise that this was about something bigger than us, the deal with the city probably wouldn’t have happened and probably shouldn’t have happened.”

Although the cost of living in Umbrella House is significantly lower than in many other East Village co-ops, not everyone would be a good fit there. The building still has a strong activist tilt and some familiarity with that world is valued. Shareholders see the building as a community and decisions are made using a system called “consensus minus one,” which strives for near unanimity. If only a single person objects to an initiative that otherwise has support, it may still go forward. But if two object, the idea is tabled.

In 2002, the City of New York gave possession of Umbrella House to the Urban Homesteaders Assistance Board, a nonprofit organization that served as a transitional owner.  Umbrella House members became shareholders, receiving the deed to the building in 2010 after performing required repairs

The building sold its first apartment that year to Miguel Valderrama, an immigrant from Colombia who works as a freelance lighting rigger for theatrical productions and concerts, and who paid $45,000 for a 300-square-foot studio. Before buying, Mr. Valderrama had been a roommate of a longtime resident and had participated in building tasks like shoveling snow and removing debris from the basement.  Three other apartments have turned over since then.

Mr. Valderrama said that having an affordable apartment allowed him to pursue work that he cared about, adding that he valued the democratic way the building is run.

“Your voice counts for something here,” he said. “We’re making decisions together.”

The very first squatters to occupy Umbrella House, a tenement built around 1900, were convinced that the city was warehousing empty buildings while private landlords profited. There were few places more hospitable to that perspective than the East Village, which seemed to be a province in perpetual revolt.

Mr. Ashmore and his comrades smashed through a cinderblock-filled window at Umbrella House just a few months after the Tompkins Square melee pitted raucous protesters objecting to a curfew in the park against hundreds of police officers, including some who covered their badge numbers while beating people with batons.

Back then, entire blocks east of the park consisted mainly of rubble and empty, decaying tenements that had fallen into city receivership because of unpaid water bills or taxes. It was a forbidding landscape where drug users lined up on sidewalks to buy heroin and buildings sometimes caught fire and burned all night, dotting the horizon with fingers of flame. But where many people saw blight, the squatters saw opportunity.

In 1988, the roof of Umbrella House was punctured by holes, giving another meaning to the name squatters had bestowed upon the building. Few windows had glass panes and rain and wind whipped through the halls. Entire flights of stairs in the walk-up building had been shattered and the squatters moved between floors on fire escapes.

Over the years the building’s inhabitants slowly made repairs. They rebuilt staircases, installed joists salvaged from other buildings and fixed a drain line so that they could have running water, work that drew support from some of their neighbors.

But they also had detractors. Proponents of gentrification, developers and people running nonprofit housing organizations that vied for control of city-owned buildings saw squatters as raffish obstacles. To city officials they were little more than criminal trespassers. Community board meetings occasionally became unruly as squatters confronted critics. And the police sometimes cleared out buildings by force. One particularly memorable episode came in 1995 when phalanxes of officers equipped with helmets, shields and an armored vehicle ousted squatters from two tenements on East 13th Street.

Umbrella House’s closest call came a year or so after the squatters moved in, when a tenement house next door collapsed and police officers evacuated nearby buildings. About half a dozen people barricaded themselves inside Umbrella House, fearing that if they left they would never be allowed back. At one point a metal claw attached to a mobile excavator that was being used to take down the collapsed building knocked into the side of Umbrella House. Those inside stood on fire escapes and draped banners across the front of the building in an effort to prevent further damage.

“It was a standoff,” said Lawrence Van Abbema, an artist and Umbrella House resident who took part in the demonstration. “In the end, they went back to demolition, but used a guy with a crowbar instead of that machine.”

Toward the end of the 1990s, city officials began exploring ways to make peace with the squatters. As part of the resulting arrangement, the century-old tenements they occupied had to be brought up to code. At Umbrella House, that involved masonry work, roof repairs and the installation of a heating system, among other things, said Tauno Biltsted, who has served as the building’s president and has lived in the East Village since he was a teenager.

Residents financed the repairs with weatherization grants and an $800,000 loan from the National Cooperative Bank, Mr. Biltsted said, adding that the building is paying back that loan at the rate of about $5,000 per month, with an additional $2,000 a month going into escrow accounts to establish two reserve funds and a fund for major repairs.

Umbrella House residents had already done extensive work on individual apartments before the agreement with the city and during the conversion phase. People put up sheet rock on their walls and were expected to complete their own bathrooms and kitchens.  Most did so, Mr. Biltsted said, adding that the building helped in some instances.

Over the years Umbrella House has lost cherished gathering space. The empty lot next door that was home to a garden is now the site of a six-story building with duplex apartments. For years, two ground-floor common areas were used for art shows and performances by squatter bands with names like Hooverville. But to keep maintenance low, Umbrella House decided in 2007 to turn those spaces into commercial storefronts and began looking for local businesses to move in rather than outsiders that might pay more. The tenants, both already established on the block, are a barbershop, which pays $5,000 a month, and a Spanish-language financial services store, which pays $2,000.

The surrender of the common areas is part of what made the roof garden a popular project. In 2012, residents voted to spend about $150,000 to create a garden area built upon 14-by-6-inch steel beams and topped by a mixture of gravel and soil. Their aim was to create a source of vegetables while stepping outside of the normal channels of food production and commerce.

The first planting was this spring and so far the garden has produced zucchini, tomatoes, okra, broccoli, spinach, beets, peas, eggplant, lettuce and Swiss chard, among other vegetables. A chalkboard on the ground floor lists what is ripe for the picking. And Ms. Pracjek, a trained herbalist, has formed what she calls the Umbrella House Apothecary,  sharing extracts she has made of hyssop and calendula from the roof garden.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, several Umbrella House residents gathered for a garden workday. Mr. Ashmore sprayed a mixture of baking soda, aspirin and other ingredients on tomato and zucchini leaves suffering from blight. Ms. Pracjek put some bamboo stakes in the ground to guide string bean stalks. Another resident, Geanme Marin, helped lug bags of organic soil.

Over the next few hours the group worked at various tasks. Mr. Biltsted and Mr. Valderrama measured an area next to the roof bulkhead, then went downstairs to cut lengths of cedar to build a compost bin that would go there. Upstairs the sun beat down and Ms. Pracjek offered fellow gardeners iced tea made with roof-grown chamomile and lemon balm.

Eventually, the day’s work was finished and those on the roof prepared to descend. Ms. Marin filled a basket with tomatoes, basil and broccoli, announcing as she walked downstairs, “Now I am ready to make dinner.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 19, 2015, on Page RE1 of the New York edition with the headline: An Unfolding Story

Press EV GRIEVE : [Updated] An urban garden grows atop Umbrella House on Avenue C by Paul Castrucci

SATURDAY, JULY 18, 2015

Via the EVG inbox… 
 

Today from 4 to 7 pm the former Lower East Side squat Umbrella House will host an open house to inaugurate its urban farming project. At 5 pm members of Umbrella’s Rooftop Garden Committee will speak briefly about the development of the project. 

EVENT RAINDATE: Sunday July 19; 4 — 7 pm.

This 820 square foot intensive green roof serves as a source of fresh produce for building residents, as a means to assist in storm water management, and as a model for other New York

The garden was initially conceived in early 2012 and construction was completed in December 2014. Now in its first growing season, the garden is producing swiss chard, broccoli, white onions, eggplant, okra, spinach, zucchini, basil, sugar snap peas, jalapeno peppers, lamb’s quarters, and several varieties of tomatoes; as well as medicinal plants: hyssop, lemon balm, chamomile, calendula, and passion flower.

Umbrella’s Rooftop Garden involved extensive construction: structural steel framing and concrete planking were required to build the raised 8” planting bed. Construction cost was $150,000. Area architect Paul Castrucci was the project architect.

Umbrella House members believe that this project is a worthy example for other co-ops and property owners to emulate. 

Umbrella House Garden Committee and Co-op Board Member Parker Pracjek states: “Access to healthy food through Farmer’s Markets, Green Food Carts, and Farm to Table initiatives have made some improvements to food health literacy in New York City, but more must be done. Food justice should be expanded to urban farming to transform underused spaces into productive environments. The benefits of urban farming are far-reaching and include decreased carbon footprint, responsible use of natural and human resources and community health.”

[Image via the Umbrella House website]

Umbrella House is at 21 Avenue C between East Second Street and East Third Street. 

Read more about the garden here. The New York Times has a feature on the garden here.

 

Press in Sallen Foundation : Getting Active On Passive House by Paul Castrucci

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

I'm a fan of Passive House. Ever since visiting the top-to-bottom renovation job for an elegant 19th century home in Brooklyn Heights undertaken by architect Ken Levenson back in 2011, the potential for constructing — or in this case reconstructing — urban buildings to keep occupants really comfortable year round without boiler heating or air conditioning in every room has been my yard stick to measure all other climate-friendly buildings. Levenson's Snapshot column was the first introduction Sallan readers had to Passive House, and since then, Ken's been one very busy Passive House advocate.

Still, he wasn't the first to use lots of wall and roof insulation in new ways, install super energy efficient windows and deploy other techniques to make energy efficiency and indoor air quality top priorities in NYC residential buildings.[1] Chris Benedict, using an approach similar to that of Passive House, seems to be the first architect to execute extraordinarily energy efficient design for both new construction and gut renovations in the City, with an emphasis on affordable housing. She also makes the claim that radically energy efficient building design opens the door for a drastically simpler building energy code, which means much less time and effort on the part of owners and architects when applying for permits. And that's not all. In June 2015, at the fourth annual New York Passive House (NYPH) conference, Benedict and her partner Henry Gifford received the NY Passive House Pioneer Award from Levenson. Earlier this year, Sallan introduced readers to the Passive Net Zero Energy condo in Prospect Heights Brooklyn undertaken by architect Paul Castrucci and Green Map maven Wendy Brawer. Cheers to all!

This brief history serves as a lead up to my take-aways from this year's NYPH conference. Let's start with the numbers. They're small. At present, there are 28 Passive House projects in New York City. But the actual number of PH residential units here is about to surge. At the conference, Related Companies announced a residential high-rise project for the now-under-construction Cornell University applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. Described by the New York Times as the "world's tallest passive house", it will be a 26 story, 352 housing unit building on a campus with aspirations to being net-zero carbon in its operations. The Related spokesman Luke Falk said this residential tower will use just 25% of the energy of comparable new buildings, but unlike Passive House projects in northern European cities, air conditioning will be installed to cope with New York's notorious hot and muggy summer weather. Unlike Benedict's mid-size multi-family buildings, the large Cornell tower will have central ventilation and heat recovery systems. Determining how to get Passive House-performing ventilation systems to comply with New York City building code has been one of the learning curves in this project. The good news is that it can be done and this will make doing the next passive high rise and the one after that easier. This is certainly an encouraging take-away.

My other chief NYPH conference take-away, however, was that today's market demand for a Passive House is not robust here. At the "Developer Roundtable: Views From the Leading Edge of Market Rate and Affordable Housing", moderated by Stuart Brodsky, participants spoke frankly and in-depth about their experiences in New York City, Philadelphia and London. The Philadelphia-based Passive House architect and developer left me with the impression that the City of Brotherly Love was way out ahead of the Big Apple when it came to scaling up the number of new affordable housing projects that meet Passive House standards. Such leadership rests on the state's housing finance agency scoring system which gives extra points to Passive House designed project applications, but does not require projects to be Passive House compliant. The speaker, Timothy McDonald, stressed that this was a Passive House victory, but one not achieved through policy-making by mandate.

A London-based developer of renovated market-rate housing whose energy efficiency is way above the norm focused on his firm's market research. Here's where things got interesting. The research found that home-buyers were willing to pay more for good soundproofing, but not more for energy efficiency. Since the building envelope insulation that soundproofs a structure also makes it much more energy efficient, his marketing message emphasized the former along with the 'healthfulness' and thermal comfort of these properties. A Brooklyn developer describing new market rate condos designed to be an "energy intelligent building" ruefully conceded that Passive House standards were "not what closed the sale". Instead, for developers like him, however personally committed to cutting his carbon footprint, a more direct incentive to build green is found in recent zoning changes, which grant developers more floor area to build when they use more building envelope insulation than required by code. On the other hand, as was noted, "appraisers are god". Since Passive House up-front costs don't compute for them, appraisals act as an obstacle to energy-active projects.

NYPH 2015 was the fourth annual conference I've attended. Each year more people come, each year, the speakers have more projects to describe and more facts on the ground to report. These appear to be upbeat trends to a fan like me. It's heartening to hear that US cities like New York and Philadelphia are getting more Passive Houses. Experience counts. As well, forces to be reckoned with by every developer, like building and energy codes, zoning requirements and project financing criteria all play a role in shaping the adoption of super energy efficient building design — even if market demand does not lead the way — are trending in the right direction. Still, it does seem that Passive House has a long way to go before it becomes a contender for the title of the new normal in US cities. What will move the needle? In One City Built To Last, the de Blasio administration puts Passive House on its roadmap for shrinking the City's carbon footprint when it "Implement(s) leading edge performance standards for new construction." As well, the report One New York: The Plan For a Strong And Just City cites, "The first net-zero school is currently under construction in Staten Island by School Construction Authority. DCAS is exploring additional public buildings to serve as additional net-zero or Passive House pilot projects." Maybe at NYPH 2016 we'll be nearing the tipping point for getting active on Passive House.

[1] At its simplest, Passive House can be thought of as a set of cooking instructions rather than collection of prescriptive codes. It's outcome oriented. By combining the basic ingredients — a highly insulated building envelope with few thermal breaks — the result is a building with high thermal performance. Installation of a continuous ventilation system that runs on recovered heat ensures good indoor air quality, occupant comfort and low energy use. A building's EUI rating is the outcome-oriented standard measure of energy performance. For a more in-depth description and links to resources and project descriptions see NYPH

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Press in Dwell : R-951 New York, New York by Paul Castrucci

This project page was created by community member  Patrick Sisson

This project page was created by community member Patrick Sisson

The R-951 project shows ultra-efficient, green construction is possible in the big city.

At the edge of the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, near the Barclays Center, a new development is pushing the edge of sustainability and green construction. R-951, a series of three 1,500-square-foot, open-loft style apartments that went up this spring, are some of the city’s first Passive House-certified and net-zero buildings, bringing solar-powered living to a medium-density section of New York. According to architect Paul Castrucci, “It’s important for me not to be wasteful and use more fuel for many reasons, so I’ve been designing more energy-efficient buildings. This is the most aggressive so far. With the solar array on the roof, it’s like each apartment has its own solar system.” Castrucci showed us the spacious interior, which despite its green bonafides still captures the airy, open feel normally associated with urban living.

Architect Paul Castrucci found that when designing a passive house for an urban environment, he didn’t have to take many extreme measures as long as the apartment layout was smart and strategic. Like many efficient homes of this caliber, the 13-16 inch thick walls provide serious insulation and a tight envelope.
— Patrick Sisson
“We estimate for a high-quality, efficient project like this, there will be a five percent premium on standard costs,” says Castrucci, who worked with Further Inc. on the project. “It’s not an extreme cost.” The kitchen includes white oak flooring, stone countertops, and Electrolux appliances.

“We estimate for a high-quality, efficient project like this, there will be a five percent premium on standard costs,” says Castrucci, who worked with Further Inc. on the project. “It’s not an extreme cost.” The kitchen includes white oak flooring, stone countertops, and Electrolux appliances.

As far as Castrucci is concerned, he’s a modern architect with a modern view of the world, and that includes sustainability and aesthetics. “Good architecture will always relate to the sun and light; that’s important,” he says. In addition, with a solar array on the roof providing about a 4.2 kilowatt system per apartment, it’s like each resident has their own utility company.

As far as Castrucci is concerned, he’s a modern architect with a modern view of the world, and that includes sustainability and aesthetics. “Good architecture will always relate to the sun and light; that’s important,” he says. In addition, with a solar array on the roof providing about a 4.2 kilowatt system per apartment, it’s like each resident has their own utility company.

Castrucci has been trying to build something like this for a few years, and now feels his team has proof of concept. “We feel that anybody building in this area could achieve a net-zero building. This is showing what’s possible in the future for other developers.”

Castrucci has been trying to build something like this for a few years, and now feels his team has proof of concept. “We feel that anybody building in this area could achieve a net-zero building. This is showing what’s possible in the future for other developers.”

Castrucci has also built in a rainwater collection system that will, based on estimates, will be able to take care of just about all the irrigation and landscaping needs of the property.

Castrucci has also built in a rainwater collection system that will, based on estimates, will be able to take care of just about all the irrigation and landscaping needs of the property.

An additional benefit of this kind of home construction is the quiet produced by triple-glazed window and a thick building envelope. For those wanting to escape the noise of the city, there's nothing better.

An additional benefit of this kind of home construction is the quiet produced by triple-glazed window and a thick building envelope. For those wanting to escape the noise of the city, there's nothing better.

Each unit in the building was priced at roughly $1.5 million

Each unit in the building was priced at roughly $1.5 million

Press CurbedNY : Mapping New York City's Booming Passive House Movement by Paul Castrucci

Wednesday, April 8, 2015, by Jessica Dailey

Seeing as Brooklyn is the artisanal, organic heartbeat of New York City, it should come as no surprise that the latest trend in sustainable building is spreading across the borough. Passive buildings, built to "passive house" standards imported from Germany, are popping up all over the place (even the Times is noticing), and they have an intrigue not found in plain ol' LEED certified buildings. It's not that they look exotic (though sometimes they do), but it's that they function entirely differently from traditional buildings. Passive houses are all about insulation, so they are virtually airtight and use up to 90 percent less energy to heat and cool, making standard heating and cooling systems completely unnecessary. From single-family homes to affordable housing complexes, dozens of developments across New York City have adopted the eco-friendly building techniques. To track the trend, we mapped 21 28 passive buildings in New York, most of which are in Brooklyn. Know of one we missed? Please do leave a comment or drop us a line.

Select Passive Houses in New York City

(as seen in CurbedNY)


abcnorio.jpg

ABC NO RIO

156 RIVINGTON ST, NEW YORK, NY 10002

(212) 254-3697

WEBSITE

 

For years, art institution ABC No Rio has been planning to makeover its Rivington Street headquarters, and work is finally supposed to start in 2015. Renderings were revealed in 2012, and the tenement will be renovated to passive house and LEED standards.


951 PACIFIC STREET

951 PACIFIC STREET, BROOKLYN, NY 11238

WEBSITE

Prospect Heights is getting a batch of futuristically named condos on Pacific Street. Called R-951, the small building will hold just three apartments, and it is aiming to be net zero, allowing owners to live without external power sources. It will have rooftop sun panels, rainwater harvesting system, and extreme insulation measures, as passive houses do. All units are about 1,500 square feet and priced between $1.49 million and $1.57 million.

6sqft Press: ABC No Rio’s Graffiti-Covered Tenement Will Be Replaced with an Ultra-Modern “Passive House” by Paul Castrucci

POSTED ON MON, DECEMBER 1, 2014BY DIANE PHAM

abc-no-rio-lower-east-side-nyc.jpg

When ABC No Rio announced more than five years ago that they would be demolishing their building in favor of an updated facility, artists immediately began grieving over the impending loss of the cooperative’s hardcore punk roots. Not much movement was made after that—only word that the artists would be going green with their renovation—but lo and behold, a new rendering revealed by Bowery Boogie shows us what will soon replace the artists’ collective: a 9,000 square-foot, LEED-certified Passive House complete with exhibition and performance spaces, a green roof and a second floor terrace.

abc-no-rio-rendering.jpg

Though a design by architect Paul Castrucci has been secured, Bowery Boogie reports that the project has been locked in the construction bid phase for the last few years. Costs apparently came in much higher than anticipated, and though they received a discount on the purchase of the building–and $1.5 million in city funding in October–the collective is still short on the funds needed to make the project happen. As a result, the project will be put out for bids again in spring 2015, and if all goes as planned, work will begin shortly after.

ABC No Rio purchased the building from the city for $1 back in June of 2006 under the provision that it be renovated.

What do you think of the new design?

[Via Bowery Boogie]

Press in Inhabitat : Brooklyn’s First Passive House Condo Building Rises in Prospect Heights by Paul Castrucci

by Bridgette Meinhold, 04/14/14

Brooklyn is quickly becoming a hotbed of passive design, and the borough is set to have another Passive House feather in its cap soon. The R-951 Residence is an ambitious three-story project that is currently under construction in Prospect Heights. When complete, the building is expected to be the first net-zero, solar-powered, passive house condo in the area. Built and designed by Paul Castrucci Architect and Ray Sage of Race Age, Inc., the three-family residence will feature a net-metered, rooftop solar system to provide enough energy for all three households as well as a backyard, deck and rooftop space for residents to enjoy the outdoors and grow their own food. We're definitely putting ourselves on the waiting list!

Read more: Brooklyn's First Passive House Condo Goes Up in Prospect Heights | Inhabitat New York City 

Slideshow

Currently under construction, the R-951 Residence in Brooklyn is aiming to become the first net zero, solar powered, passive house condo project in the area. Designed by Paul Castrucci Architect and builder Ray Sage, of Race Age, Inc, the three unit walkup is a unique project with an ultra-efficient design, tight and highly insulated multi-family residence. A net-metered, rooftop solar system provides enough energy for all three tenants and backyard, deck and roof top space provide plenty of room to spend time outdoors and grow their own food.

Read more: Brooklyn’s First Passive House Condo Building Rises in Prospect Heights R951 Residence-Paul castrucci Architect – Inhabitat New York City 

Press New York Times : For an Architect and His Family,a Home and a Laboratory by Paul Castrucci

THE stacks of the Con Edison plant at 14th Street and Avenue C are just barely visible through the hedgerow of grasses and herbs that top the parapets of 179 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. It's a view framed by serendipity, and it delights 179 Rivington's architect, Paul Castrucci, who built this tricolored, sawtooth-roofed, five-story building sheathed in zinc, brick and concrete as a laboratory of sustainable architecture and green-building practices.

It's a home laboratory, too: Mr. Castrucci, his wife, Marisa DeDominicis, and their three children live in the top two floors in a four-bedroom apartment that seems to float among the cornices of the Rivington Street tenements. The solar panels along the south-facing "teeth" of the roof draw enough power to make this family's Con Ed bill a wash each month; the garden in progress around the top floor absorbs storm water and forms a soft, green canopy that cools the roof a notch or two each summer; and the skylights and cantilevering aluminum windows draw air through and out of the space, like a natural (and free) air-conditioner.

"It's a bit of a way of life," said Mr. Castrucci, who made public-art pieces forged from iron before he made buildings. This bit of a way of life is an aesthetic, domestic and political mission that cloaks this family in community activism -- Ms. DeDominicis is a program coordinator at the Trust for Public Land -- and self-sufficiency.

"We're just your typical Lower East Side activist family," Ms. DeDominicis said half-jokingly the other day, tipping her new puppy, a winsome beagle-Jack Russell blend named Ginger, from her arms on to the concrete of Mr. Castrucci's ground-floor office. She went on to describe two decades of the grindingly hard work that has led her family to this corner lot, which was one of the last vacant lots in the area.

In the 1980's, Mr. Castrucci, now 46, was living in a storefront on Fourth Street between Avenues A and B. Madonna was said to have lived upstairs, though no one could remember seeing her. He made a gallery in the space with his brother Andrew, who is also an artist, called the A+P Gallery; their rent was $350 a month. He practiced architecture and made art -- muscular iron pieces he forged in the riot of vacant lots that peppered the East Village.

"That was in the 80's, when everyone had a gallery," said Ms. DeDominicis, 42. "There were three on every block."

She had been living on 13th Street, in a 1910 tenement renovated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and then, as so many buildings were in the 1970's, abandoned by its landlord.

Drawn to the unpainted canvas of the area, Ms. DeDominicis was one of a group of squatters and community gardeners who brought the building -- and the neighborhood -- back into the 20th century. (It is now a limited-equity co-op supported by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board.)

Ms. DeDominicis threw herself into community life, running a grass-roots recycling program, working as an advocate for the elderly and then the homeless, learning carpentry skills at New York City Technical College and volunteering in community gardens -- "creating order," she said, "out of the chaos of our neighborhood."

She had a carpentry company, Women's Work, and returned to New York City Technical College to teach basic carpentry skills to women. She and Mr. Castrucci met one day as she was gardening in a vacant lot and he was blacksmithing next door. He moved into the 13th Street apartment with Ms. DeDominicis and her daughter Kali, now 15. Their son, Lucca, arrived 11 years ago; their daughter Selene is 9. (That garden has been bulldozed, and his old storefront is now a wine bar.)

Ms. DeDominicis was happy on 13th Street, proud of the work she and her neighbors had poured into the building and the street. But Mr. Castrucci wanted to build. Ten years ago, he bought a 25-by-100-foot lot on Fifth Street, between Avenues C and D, for $20,000 and the back taxes, an additional $60,000.

Within a year, it was revealed that the city had condemned the lot and planned its development as a public park, a rara avis for the area. The situation's denouement, in which the city paid Mr. Castrucci and Ms. DeDominicis $570,000, involved a nine-year legal battle and took care of their lawyer's fees and the purchase price of their 40-by-40-foot Rivington Street lot, which they bought at public auction for $380,000 in 2000.

It was one of the last lots auctioned in the area, before a suit by the Green Guerrillas, community garden activists, and the state attorney general's office stopped the process by which the city was selling off its vacant lots -- many of which had become public gardens -- in the last days of the Giuliani administration.

This lot, happily, was just a lot -- the former site of a pharmacy, with a pawn shop next door -- and with a special feature: it is at the corner of Rivington and Attorney Streets, and its neighbors across Attorney Street to the east and north are a public park and two low-rise public schools, offering a feast of light, air and views.

Mr. Castrucci had spent three years investigating properties at city auctions, captivated by the political theater of various groups, like the one that brought thousands of grasshoppers to an auction, shutting down the proceedings for an hour.

The Rivington Street lot, like so many owned by the city, seemed seriously underpriced in its auction estimate, Mr. Castrucci said, and when the bidding was done, it sold for three or four times the value the city had placed on it. Stunned by the bidding and worn out from nine years of wrangling to recoup his costs from the lot on Fifth Street, Mr. Castrucci was seriously shaken by the end of what turned out to be his final auction. "I could hardly sign my name," he said.

Mr. Castrucci's plan was to build a one-story structure, and maybe build another story each year, as funds allowed. Ms. DeDominicis urged him to be bold. A construction loan of about $1 million was a year in the making. Construction and the attendant research and experimentation -- trying to find the right green insulation (it's cellulose, and you blow it in wet), high-efficiency boilers and more -- took a year and a half.

The street floor holds Mr. Castrucci's architectural practice, an office so soaked in light his associates have taped their plans over the Attorney Street windows. "We're working on that," Mr. Castrucci said.

This building is a calling card for his modern architecture -- a clean, utilitarian form with a clear vision -- which he deploys in a number of community-based projects (limited equity co-ops, a community center nearby) as well as private and commercial work. The middle two floors have four apartments, the rent from which helps pay the mortgage.

In the hot sun one recent morning, 179 Rivington was an extraordinary sight: modern, graceful, perked with color. "I'm really in awe of my husband," Ms. DeDominicis said. "I would not be living here. I would not have had the same focus. So together we have arrived at this point."

Later that morning, two housedress-bedecked women, doubled over with age but grinning wildly -- and each half leaning on, half pushing her foldable shopping cart -- zigzagged past the corner.

"Hey," one of the women yelled. "That's a very beautiful building. Are there any cheap apartments?"

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