Our ongoing Portfolio series showcases bodies of work by artists inspired by or working in the city, often accompanied by a statement from the artist expounding on the images presented in the slideshow. This portfolio takes a slightly different tack. As part of the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus project Typecast, we asked five photographers to explore the architectural typology of “towers-in-the-park” by documenting the buildings, residents, street life, and surroundings of five study sites: Co-op City (Baychester and Eastchester, The Bronx), Sea Rise and Sea Park East (Coney Island, Brooklyn), Todt Hill Houses (Castleton Corners, Staten Island), Electchester (Pomonok, Queens), and Alfred E. Smith Houses (Two Bridges, Manhattan).
One of the initial goals of the Typecast project is to investigate the unique social experience of each of these places — as opposed to an exclusive focus on their shared physical characteristics — by calling attention to site-specific histories and raising questions about what assets the typology offers that might be hidden in plain sight. In order to do that, the five photo essays seek to demonstrate how residents and neighbors negotiate and navigate both the built and the open space of these building complexes.
In this series of photographs, Anna Beeke documents the Alfred E. Smith Houses and nearby Vladeck Houses in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan. Images from all five series will be on view in the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus booth at the IDEAS CITY Festival StreetFest on Saturday, May 4th. Click here to learn more about Typecast, or to see photographs of the four other study sites. But first, a brief introduction to the Smith and Vladeck Houses.
The Alfred E. Smith Houses and Vladeck Houses are NYCHA developments in Two Bridges. This Manhattan neighborhood is situated alongside the East River between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, but is mostly cut off from the waterfront by hard infrastructure. This location leaves the neighborhood vulnerable to flooding during storms, made clear by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
Two Bridges underwent massive redevelopment in the mid-20th century, erasing most of the historic urban fabric and creating one of the densest clusters of towers-in-the-park development in the city. The untapped capacity of open spaces in this type of housing, the significant capital investments and design projects along the East River waterfront currently underway, and the ability of green infrastructure projects to provide social and economic benefits in addition to responding to urgent environmental imperatives provide a unique opportunity in the neighborhood to address numerous urban challenges.
The Smith and Vladeck Houses were completed in 1953 and 1940, respectively. The Smith Houses were designed by the architectural firm of Eggers & Higgins; Vladeck Houses by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. Combined, they cover 37 acres and are made up of 38 buildings varying in height from 6 to 17 stories with a total of 3,692 units and 7,611 residents. 22.8% in the Smith Houses census tract and 25.7% of residents in the Vladeck Houses tract are at least 62 years of age, the highest rate for a NYCHA project in the city (citywide, 14.9% of residents are 62 years old or older), and unemployment in the complexes are far above the city average (Smith: 14.1%; Vladeck: 17%; city: 9.5%). —D.R