CASA VERDE

Spring 2021


Designed by ACE Team 8 (The Hive) under the mentorship of the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the NYC School Construction Authority (SCA)

“The ache for home lives in all of us,
the safe place where we can go as we are
and not be questioned.”

-Maya Angelou

Project Description

Casa Verde is a 135-bed homeless shelter located in Hunts Point, Bronx, at the former Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. This shelter provides spaces for clients to access resident intake/processing, counseling, housing referral/placement services, treatment center resources, medical care, a dining hall and kitchen, multipurpose community rooms, and residential pods. Additionally, Casa Verde offers its clients daytime workshops with vocational training and recreational programs. These programs are designed to engage clients in meaningful activities that build employment readiness skills and confidence. Finally, with its unique green market initiative, Casa Verde seeks to create a more dynamic community in Hunts Point, Bronx by fostering meaningful connections with local businesses and institutions.

Project Background: CIRT Prompt

During the 2020-2021 season, ACE Team 8 collaborated virtually to learn about architecture, construction, and engineering by participating in the CIRT (Construction Industry Round Table) National Design & Construction Competition. Drawn by its complexity and relevance, we decided to answer the homeless shelter prompt.

CIRT Prompt: "Create a functional modern welcoming homeless shelter that addresses the various needs of its occupants such as: medical/health, safety/security, hygiene, nourishment, drug/alcohol treatment, etc. The challenge is to apply design AND construction techniques or applications that will create an inviting environment that will attract the indigent and homeless to abandon their nomadic or street existence for something more nurturing and secure found in a homeless shelter."

As a team, we conducted thorough research on possible site locations, sustainable building practices, HVAC systems, project management, community engagement, and biophilic design. But more importantly, before we began designing Casa Verde, we sought to understand homelessness as a humanitarian issue. Starting the design process with an open-minded perspective allowed us to approach the construction of our shelter with empathy, enthusiasm, and purpose. I believe it was our team's passion and dedication that made our project stand out and place as second runner-up in the CIRT National Design Competition. Scroll to see Casa Verde's winning project boards!

Reflection

This experience has been incredibly meaningful. Having the opportunity to learn alongside other students from working engineers, project managers, and architects has been an enriching process. Following a project from concept to construction taught me so much about working in the ACE industry and about problem-solving. My teammates and I were guided by wonderful mentors from the DDC and the SCA, who generously shared their knowledge with us and helped bring our project to life. I feel so grateful to have worked with such inspiring students and mentors who were not only brilliant but humble and kind. A huge THANK YOU to my lovely ACE Team and all of the wonderful professionals who helped us along the way! It was an honor to be a part of ACE Team 8!

Casa Verde Project Boards

CASA VERDE BOARD 1
CASA VERDE BOARD 2

More on Homelessness

Homelessness is a humanitarian issue. A major misconception about homelessness is that those who experience it somehow "deserve" it. In reality, many homeless people find themselves in a perpetual cycle of poverty and struggle because of how our social institutions function; many individuals travel from street to shelter to hospital to prison-- only to end up back on the streets again. In order to reduce the homeless population's dependence on institutional care, many cities have attempted to implement pathways to supportive housing (e.g., the New York Agreement (1990), which created 3,000 supportive housing units). When the University of Pennsylvania measured the fiscal impact of the New York Agreement, researchers found that following its implementation, taxpayers saved $12,000 per homeless individual. Despite the typical success of these initiatives, many affordable housing plans and homeless shelter proposals generate resistance from the local neighborhood. This obstacle-- community resistance-- was one of my team's biggest challenges in drafting our own proposal for Casa Verde.

During our final presentation to DDC staff guests and DDC Commissioner Jamie Torres-Springer, my team answered questions about our project. A question that really resonated with me was, "Do you think that good architecture can solve homelessness?" This question prompted me to reflect on our project's goals and on the social issue we were attempting to solve. But would good design be enough? In short, we answered no-- homelessness is an extremely complex issue. Politics and policy play a huge role-- but major barriers (namely community resistance) prevent cities from making meaningful changes. Perhaps the most fundamental step to solving homelessness could be breaking down the hegemonic prejudices that prevent society from seeing homeless people for who they really are-- just people.

More resources about the homelessness epidemic:

  1. Housing First

  2. Homelessness in New York