- Project Name
- Denizen Bushwick
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- New Construction
- 1,200,000 sq. feet
- Project Status
This article appeared in the April 2020 issue of ARCHITECT.
Denizen Bushwick is an immense complex, filling two city blocks in Brooklyn with 1.2 million square feet of mixed-use residential development. Long before craft beer and maker culture came to the borough, Rheingold—the city’s most successful beer through the mid-20th century—was brewed in a sprawling complex that included Denizen’s site. The brewery’s buildings were demolished in 1981 and have been replaced piecemeal by rather desultory residential development, until now.
Denizen Bushwick, designed by New York City firm ODA, centers on a linear park that follows what had been an internal service street in the Rheingold complex. “We thought of it as an opportunity to propose a different urban formula, which is to rearrange the priority of mobility, accessibility, and pedestrian,” ODA executive director Eran Chen, AIA, says. “We’d like to test the idea of an enclave surrounded by traditional streets.”
This experimental approach extends into the layout of Denizen’s two buildings, which flank the linear park and contain 911 studio, one-, and two-bedroom units. Instead of the standard doughnut configuration that brings light and air into units through a single central courtyard, here, ODA created five courtyards by developing interlocking wings which vary between single-loaded corridors and the more typical double. The buildings have two cores apiece, and there are four public lobbies.
The façades of the two buildings are reminiscent of old masonry warehouses in their weight and bulk, with deeply recessed rust-colored windows punctuated by diagonal cross-bracing. ODA doubled the typical spans of the conventional concrete frame at the ground level and clad the neighborhood-facing façades in large gray concrete masonry units that read as more refined brick. “It reduces the impression of scale and makes it seem a little bit more manageable,” Chen says.
Other amenities endear the project to neighbors as well: In addition to a ground-floor mix of retail and community facilities, the linear park is open to the public, and appears as a street to neighbors; two of the five interior courtyards are promised to be open to the public as well. “Those courtyards have food-and-beverage and a supermarket,” Chen says. “The scale is very intimate, but there’s a diversity of types of activity and details, each one with its own character.”
The complex’s most distinguishing features are the courtyard-facing murals that span the height of the eight- and nine-story buildings and enliven these public/private spaces. “Bushwick prizes the idea of mega-murals,” Chen says, noting that grassroots artists have painted exterior walls in the neighborhood for generations. ODA’s Public Engagement in Neighborhoods (OPEN), a nonprofit organization associated with the firm, was involved with the murals’ design and execution.
By cladding the exterior wall of the single-loaded corridors in window wall, the architects gain multiple benefits from the murals, which brighten typically drab apartment hallways while creating monumentally scaled pieces that can be viewed by tenants and the public. And the murals are likely to outlast most public artwork since the actual painted surfaces are on the corridor walls where they’re not subject to nature’s whims.
Open space is reprised at the top of the complex, with each roof having about 30,000 square feet of open landscape with a variety of experiences, including urban farming, lounge areas, fireplaces, barbecue grills, and a mini-golf course. The rooftops provide expansive views of the city, with Manhattan’s skyline just 4 miles away.
Ultimately, Denizen Bushwick’s success as a design exercise needs to be tested for its applicability as a community building in Brooklyn. “There’s a leap of faith here,” Chen says, admitting that privately owned public spaces come with some inherent community tension. “Denizen means ‘people’ in Dutch, and [the project] was always about the idea of diversity.” With Bushwick thriving more than three-and-a-half centuries after the original Dutch colonists relinquished control to the British, time would seem to be on the side of the project’s residents.
Project: Denizen Bushwick, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Client: All Year Management
Architect: ODA, New York
Structural Engineer: McNamara • Salvia Structural Engineers
MEP Engineer: MG Engineering
Civil Engineer: Philip Habib & Associates
Façade Consultant: LaufsED
Elevator Consultant: Jenkins & Huntington
Excavation Consultant: FNA Engineering Services
Art Consultants: ArtBridge; The Bushwick Collective; OPEN
Curtain Wall Contractor: Schüco
Concrete Contractor: Azzarone Contracting Corp.
General Contractor: NYEG Corp. (amenity spaces); Apt Developers (apartment units)
Size: 1.2 million square feet