Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

This site uses cookies. By using our services, you agree to our cookie use.
Learn more here.

Competition: Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has launched an international contest to redevelop a series of small sites across the Big Apple (Deadline: 24 March)

The two-stage competition – supported by the American Institute of Architects New York – invites architect-led teams to draw up a conceptual solution which could be used to deliver affordable homes on hundreds of undeveloped infill sites owned by the city.

The contest is part of mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York (HNY) 2.0 plan which aims to create or preserve 300,000 new affordable homes by 2026. First round applications must propose a low-cost housing solution for a 155m² site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan.

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

Source: Image by Google Earth

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

According to the brief: ‘In support of HNY 2.0, HPD has aggressively moved through its inventory of vacant and underutilized city-owned land to create more affordable housing. Some of the remaining inventory includes lots that are challenging to develop due to their small size. Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC is a design competition to find housing solutions for such lots, and to explore their potential to contribute to citywide affordable housing options.

‘The design competition seeks proposals with the goal of: promoting excellence in urban infill design; exploring design and construction strategies to inform quality, affordable, small-home development; demonstrating feasible, replicable housing solutions across various site and neighbourhood conditions; and engaging with and building the capacity of architects to act as critical partners in the development of city-owned vacant sites.’

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

The contest site at 113 West 136th Street, Manhattan

New York City is the most populous settlement in the United States with more than 8 million inhabitants. The city’s affordable housing programme houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers and since 1978 the HPD has been the main body tasked with developing and maintaining the city’s public housing stock.

The Big Ideas for Small Lots competition aims to boost the supply of small-scale affordable housing by improving the city’s capacity to redevelop hundreds of small infill plots which have so far evaded redevelopment due to costs or complexity.

Participating teams must first propose a redevelopment scheme for a small plot on West 136th Street in Harlem. A number of finalists will then receive $3,000 each to proceed to the second phase during which they will be assigned one or more city-owned sites and asked to assemble a development team.

One or more overall winners may then be awarded sites for construction in November. Judges include Hayes Slade, president of AIA New York and principal at Slade Architecture; NYC Public Design Commission executive director Justin Garrett Moore; and NYC Department of City Planning chief urban designer Claudia Herasme.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 24 March

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information


Q&A with Matthew Creegan

The deputy press secretary at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) discusses his ambitions for the competition

Why are your holding an international contest for below-market-rate housing on 23 unusual plots in New York City?

To fully understand the impetus for this competition, we need to take a look at New York City’s history. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, New York experienced a period of significant disinvestment and the City became a landlord for thousands of abandoned or seized properties. In the following decades, New York City went through significant changes that have increased pressure on the housing supply. People are demanding to live here, and we’ve seen that the housing stock hasn’t kept up with demand, so an affordable place to live is becoming increasingly out of reach for New Yorkers. The inventory of land that was once under city ownership has also been dwindling as we’ve developed almost all of it into affordable housing at a rapid pace. At this stage, we have a few hundred lots that are still left in HPD’s inventory and many of them – like the ones in this competition – are lots that have been perceived as quite difficult to develop.

The Governor Alfred E Smith public housing development in New York

The Governor Alfred E Smith public housing development in New York

Source: Image by JvL

The Governor Alfred E Smith public housing development in New York

When we were shaping this competition, we wanted to look at these vacant sites with a set of fresh eyes. We became increasingly interested in how the design community, as opposed to developers, would tackle these challenges. This competition is a great way to tap into the wealth of talent in New York City, and around the globe to not only promote excellence in the design of small-scale housing, but to build new assets that will serve our communities and solve this city’s affordability crisis.

What is your vision for the innovative new residential developments?

These lots have small footprints, and they’re in-between buildings that were built more than a century ago. We’re looking for innovative designs that will respond to these constraints while also taking into consideration the types of things that make affordable housing designs successful, like feasible construction budgets and a high-quality experience for residents.

The New York skyline

The New York skyline

Source: Image by Sam Valadi

The New York skyline

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We hope to cast a wide net and solicit designs from established and emerging architects and designers who have innovative ideas for small-scale housing. However, this is not purely an ideas competition; we are seeking designs that can eventually be built.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We are continuously putting forward new opportunities for members of the development and design community through our competitive RFP process. For example, in November we released the ShareNYC RFEI seeking proposals for the design, construction, and management of shared housing units.

The City has a tradition of promoting innovating design through its RFPs, including micro units, modular construction, and large-scale passive house projects. We look forward to continuing this tradition in future initiatives.

Are there any other recent innovative low-cost housing projects you have been impressed by?

A few projects helped us wrap our mind around how design can address similar constraints and provide quality, accessible residential buildings. These include the XS House in Philadelphia by IS Architects; several designs from The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space by Azby Brown, including the 4x4 House by Tadao Ando, House in Motoazabu by Cell Space Architects, and the 1999 sumireaoi house by Koizumi Studio; the People’s Architecture Office Plugin House; and The Offset House by Ja Architecture Studio.