The Landscape As Community Hub For Sustainable Affordable Housing

In Brooklyn, OSD design conceives urban farm beds, orchards, play areas, and social spaces inspired by the neighborhood’s historic farmlands.


CommunityGround has broken on one of the most sustainable affordable housing developments ever constructed in New York City—including an outdoor landscape meant to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of people of all ages. The mixed-use project at 326 Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville has been designed as all-electric passive housing that uses zero fossil fuel for heating and operations, and includes a rooftop solar array to offset energy use. It will provide 216 permanently affordable apartments to formerly homeless young adults and their families, as well as for low-income New Yorkers.

For the outdoor design, Slate Property Group appointed OSD, a multidisciplinary design group, to create a welcoming, warm haven for those in need. OSD’s scope of work includes a 7,000 square foot courtyard on the ground floor, a 4,500 square foot public frontage, and a 2,000 square foot rooftop garden on the fifth floor. The design imagines the outdoor spaces as the heart of everyday community life. From within the private outdoor spaces, a community hub takes shape as a series of urban farm beds, orchards, play areas, and social spaces inspired by the neighborhood’s historic farmlands.

Rockaway was once comprised of Dutch farms.

“At 326 Rockaway Avenue, we’ve worked with RiseBoro [Community Partnership] and our designer partners, including OSD, to build not just affordable housing, but a true community. Together, we’ve put thought not only into where children will play, but also where families will gather on holidays and where members of the surrounding community can connect with one other. This is a project that’s going to make its residents and its neighbors here in Brownsville proud,” comments David Schwartz, principal, Slate Property Group.

To foster a sense of connection to place, the design takes inspiration from Brooklyn’s iconic landscapes, from Brownstone stoops to Dutch farms. The result is a series of areas that evoke a sense of community, belonging, and playfulness through outdoor seating, farming, play, and exercise. The adult zones are adjacent to the urban farms and fitness area to the west, while young children and toddler zones are hugged by soft vegetation and ample seating to the east. From one end of the courtyard, the landscape is conceived to honor the social history of Brooklyn’s iconic stoop culture.

Play area for older children.

Materials and furnishings used in the courtyard farmyard and the stoop sidewalk reference the textures, color palettes, and material that would have been found in Dutch farms, including reclaimed native locust wood benches and fence posts, wood chips, and earth tone colors. The planting palette recalls food that would have been harvested in the early farms of Brooklyn, from serviceberry to black cherry and crabapple.

“At a time of much needed affordable housing in New York City, 326 Rockaway looks beyond conventional housing models, investing in design that nurtures a strong sense of both home and community for formerly homeless New Yorkers. To do this, our design grounds itself in historic Brooklyn landscapes–from Bed Stuy stoops to Dutch farms–reinventing life outside as a network of social spaces that includes urban farming, nature play, exercise, pollinator gardens, and outdoor gathering suitable for everything from working to birthday parties. In this way, residents gain not only a roof over their heads but a connection to place, each other, and activities that nourish the mind, body, and spirit,” says Simon David, founding principal and creative director, OSD.

Completion on the innovative project is scheduled for summer 2025 with leasing anticipated to begin next year.

All images: OSD

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