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Sugar Hill Development

Adjaye Associates

Sugar Hill Development
By Caterina Testa -

During the 20th century Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district in the northernmost tip of the island of Manhattan was associated with a series of different urban characteristics. Starting with the 1920s, it was the hub of Afro-American social and cultural life with a thriving jazz scene. This was followed by a period of decline and decadence after the Second World War that lasted until the 1990s.

Designed by Adjaye Associates, the Sugar Hill Development is part of a much wider urban revitalisation project that has involved the whole district since the late 20th century.

Mainly an affordable housing block, the programme also includes several public interest functions: an early childhood centre and a children’s museum.

The Sugar Hill Development has a dual link with the city. On the one hand, it incorporates a public programme geared to young children; on the other, its concept challenges the traditional typology, its modern design complementary to the surrounding environment of Gothic revival row-houses.

The architect practice worked closely with the client and local community in a series of workshops and meetings to ensure the project had general approval. The outcome was a compact, imposing, 13-storey, 25-metre long building clad in textured anthracite-colour slabs.

The building’s imposing mass is relieved by a series of volume changes and step-backs that also signpost its mixed-use character. The large, two-level base contains the children’s museum and early childhood centre. On top of this sits an 11-storey residential block that cantilevers slightly out towards the street to form a protective canopy for passing pedestrians. The step back at the 9th floor creates a 10-foot terrace, a further open area along with the terraces on the first and second floors and roof.

Variation and movement are introduced with saw-toothed fenestration across the...

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