Tai Soo Kim, FAIA, with the firm Huntington, Darbee & Dollard, won a P/A Award in 1969 for the Van Block housing project. Though built largely as planned, the complex has since been partly demolished, a fate that befell many public housing projects from that period.
Comprising 14 L-shaped buildings one mile south of downtown Hartford, Conn., the project impressed the jury with its ingenious packaging of 104 two- and three-bedroom units on a tight, urban site. Kim arranged the brick-clad buildings in an alternating zigzag pattern, with a series of courtyards linked by diagonal walkways that threaded through the complex beneath gateways formed by the ends of each building.
The dwelling units echo that chevron pattern. The front kitchen and dining space stand at a 45-degree angle from the sunken, rear living room on the first floor, while one or two front bedrooms angle away from the rear master bedroom on the second floor, increasing both the variety and privacy of the interior spaces.
The jury applauded the inventiveness and rigor of the design. Lewis Davis called it “unique,” while Cesar Pelli, FAIA, said it was “one of the best … I have seen.” Such accolades, however, could not prevent the demolition of roughly half of the complex decades later, eliminating the pedestrian walkways and courtyards in favor of automobile access to parking lots in front of each unit. Juror Henry Cobb, FAIA, thought that “the weakest part … [of the project] is the site plan,” and, given the subsequent demolitions, that observation proved prescient.