A tumultuous history of development has characterized Hunts Point Peninsula over the past century. Located along the southeastern edge of
the Bronx and bounded by New York City’s East River, Bronx River and the Bruckner Expressway, the largely industrial neighbourhood was once a retreat for Manhattan’s elite — the likes of which included members of the Tiffany & Co. family — lined with sprawling estates and waterfront mansions. After the First World War, its ample space and strategic rail access to the tri-state area spurred a flurry of commercial and industrial activity, paving the way for its transformation into a thriving economic zone. Developers capitalized on this opportunity, building out apartment blocks to house the growing workforce. The introduction of the produce market (1967) and meat market (1974) led to the area’s designation as an “industrial park”; by then, it boasted a robust ecosystem of over 800 businesses.

The sawtooth roof of the factory — a seven-unit building designed for tenants working in food manufacturing and low-emissions fabrication — announces an exciting presence in Hunts Point, New York.

The sawtooth roof of the factory — a seven-unit building designed for tenants working in food manufacturing and low-emissions fabrication — announces an exciting presence in Hunts Point, New York.

The path to such industrial prosperity, however, was not without its social and environmental challenges. Subsequent infrastructural changes, including the construction of expressways, altered the physical and social landscape, uprooted entire enclaves and severed ties to the rest of the Bronx. Industry flourished, but affluent residents departed in the face of worsening traffic and environmental conditions. The Bruckner Expressway, completed in 1973, once and for all isolated Hunts Point, precipitating a drop in property values and an increase in vacant apartments. Those left behind grappled with the fallout; both crime and poverty soared throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Today, over 40 per cent of the neighbourhood’s 12,000-person population lives below the poverty line. Despite these challenges, Hunts Point remains a vital industrial hub for the state and city of New York. The area is home to the world’s largest food distribution centre of its kind — which occupies 133 hectares and generates an estimated US$3 billion in yearly revenue.

The factory interior is a sprawling, light-filled duplex space where sun pours in from the skylights.

The factory interior is a sprawling, light-filled duplex space where sun pours in from the skylights.

It’s this industrial–historical character that a new residential-meets- manufacturing project seeks to bolster. New York–based architecture firm WXY, in conjunction with Body Lawson Associates, has developed a comprehensive plan that includes six distinct buildings to house 740 residential units, a parking deck to accommodate 297 vehicles, commercial spaces to include retail and community facilities and a light industrial facility for food manufacturing and modern fabrication — the last, a rarely seen amenity in new housing developments. Called The Peninsula, the original proposal was spearheaded by the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), Hudson Companies developers and Gilbane Development, and was selected from among submissions to a request for expressions of interest issued by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in June 2015. The project broke ground in 2019, before the pandemic.

Factory space at The Peninsula in Hunts Point, New York

“It’s very much like a spec-office, but think spec-factory,” says Claire Weisz, a founder of WXY, by way of explaining the development’s distinctive industrial programming. “I don’t think there’s a single other spec-factory done with public funds by any city…People take old buildings and convert them, but building a new factory building? I don’t think so.” The first of the project’s three phases wrapped up in 2023 with the completion of two buildings along Tiffany Street on the site of the former jail yard of the notorious Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. The inaugural building is a brick-clad, 14-storey residential complex, home to 183 units of deeply affordable housing, 18 of which were set aside for formerly unhoused individuals and families, as well as a cultural arts centre with studio space for emerging artists. Positioned at the base of the steep two-hectare site, the complex was able to achieve relatively high verticality for the area without compromising views for phases two and three or the surrounding neighbourhood.

Factory space at The Peninsula in Hunts Point, New York

The same can be said for the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with a bold sawtooth roof that lies just beyond a stepped courtyard that will bisect the entirety of The Peninsula. Breaking from the sprawling, single-storey warehouse typology characteristic of industrial architecture, WXY designed this facility to function on multiple levels. Containing a mix of spaces that range in size and fenestration, the 11-unit building can accommodate a variety of light industrial activities. The leasing process is currently in full swing, but a few early tenants include an electric scooter repair shop with retail frontage, a garment manufacturing company that will inhabit the light-filled duplex, and a double-height incubator kitchen that will allow small businesses to rent professional kitchen stations at subsidized costs.

Accessed via a “step street,” a courtyard bisects the site and separates the factory from the residential buildings. When completed, The Peninsula will feature 740 affordable units.
Accessed via a “step street,” a courtyard bisects the site and separates the factory from the residential buildings. When completed, The Peninsula will feature 740 affordable units.

Contained within a shell that is simultaneously industrial and refined, the structure anchors the corner of Tiffany and Spofford with massive poured-in-place concrete walls. These walls conceal a number of windowless spaces on level one, on the building’s eastern side, envisioned for tenants whose production requires precise temperature and light control. Along the western facade, the serrated roof permits an abundance of northern light into the largest of the industrial spaces, which is further illuminated through its glass plank cladding. Below, three units with sidewalk storefronts abut the building’s communal loading dock. Equipped with three garage bays, two oversized freight elevators and trash, recycling and compost pickup, the building gives each tenant access to shared amenities, as well as HVAC capabilities customizable depending on their needs. The manufacturing spaces are available for lease at prices much lower than those of other boroughs. This fact — combined with the high ceilings, blank-slate customizability and clean working conditions — makes a convincing case for business owners in the market for this type of real estate.

One of the factory’s tenants — Nuthatch, which makes plant-based milk and all-natural upcycled foods — reflects the neighbourhood’s history as a food processing centre.

One of the factory’s tenants — Nuthatch, which makes plant-based milk and all-natural upcycled foods — reflects the neighbourhood’s history as a food processing centre.

The entire project is the culmination of years of community engagement. For the past three decades, local advocacy groups like Bronx Community Board 2, THE POINT Community Development Corporation, BronxWorks, Urban Health Plan and others have led efforts to heal the surrounding residential fabric of Hunts Point from the detrimental effects of its rapid industrialization. They have steered vision plans, shepherded youth development activities, boosted arts and culture programs, and led the charge for a number of built improvement initiatives. Before issuing its RFEI, the New York City Economic Development Corporation turned to community leaders, local stakeholders and residents to identify how best to reposition the land for their needs. These dialogues uncovered an overwhelming emphasis upon increasing job opportunities, housing, food security and platforms for the arts. And, through conversations with leadership at THE POINT, WXY identified that manufacturing was critical to the identity and prosperity of the neighbourhood; the firm then hinged its design around the support of such entrepreneurship rather than pivoting away from it in favour of more traditional development models.

Nuthatch milks

Unlike the typical mixed-use development model, which creates commercial opportunities within programs like hospitality, retail or office, The Peninsula challenges the notion of allocating manufacturing to far-off industrial parks by positioning it at the front and centre of this primarily residential development. The model addresses both housing and income stability in an effort to move away from what Weisz likes to call “a monoculture of housing.” Plus, Weisz explains, “modern manufacturing is actually a clean practice.” While fears of pollution and toxic chemicals understandably pushed heavy industrial practices away from residential areas, newer methods make the case for reintegrating fabrication into the central programmatic makeup of cities.

The Peninsula development at Hunts Point, New York

This wouldn’t be the first time WXY has thought outside the box while designing projects of this scale. The practice, which Weisz co-founded with her husband, Mark Yoes, in 1998, has become an authority on New York City urban development through its involvement in a number of imaginative revitalization projects, which span from public housing and infrastructure to resiliency and community development. The success of areas like Battery Park City, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the High Line are just a few notable examples of their influence.

The courtyard that surrounds the factory (whose test kitchen entrance is shown here) and its entire site provides the community with much- needed public space.

The courtyard that surrounds the factory (whose test kitchen entrance is shown here) and its entire site provides the community with much- needed public space.

Phases two and three of The Peninsula mixed-use development will see the addition of hundreds of affordable units and 4,830 square metres of publicly accessible open space, as well as the much-needed introduction of a grocery store. Believe it or not, Hunts Point is actually a food desert where bodegas outnumber grocery stores 20 to one, despite the presence of the gargantuan food distribution market. With phase two underway and phase three slated for completion in 2029, The Peninsula has a healthy start on creating a well-rounded ecosystem of activity that will undeniably benefit the people of Hunts Point.

As New York and countless other cities across the globe continue to search for solutions to the housing crisis, The Peninsula also presents a thought-provoking case study in improving upon the existing context for the purpose of revitalization. Perhaps change-makers should continue to take this investigative approach, building to a community’s strengths rather than superimposing idealistic notions of urban development. Residents of overlooked communities like Hunts Point are often the most resilient — just imagine what could be achieved if they were all given this chance to show the world what they’re made of.

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