2020 AIA Housing Awards: MLK Plaza by Magnusson Architecture and Planning

MLK Plaza

Architecture Firm(s): Magnusson Architecture and Planning

Owner: Radson Development LLC

Location: Bronx, New York

Category: Multifamily housing (category three)


Serving individuals and families from a wide range of income levels, including the formerly homeless, the project’s design embraces neighborhood identity, focused on community health and emphasizes the health and wellness of the buildings occupants.

With 167 apartment units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom models, this new building in the Bronx serves individuals and families from a wide range of income levels, including the formerly homeless. LEED Platinum-certified, the project’s active design interventions focus on community health, relying on research on place-based disparities to shape an affordable and supportive building.

MLK Plaza is situated in an industrial section of a mixed-use neighborhood, where much of the building stock dates to the 1930s and ’40s, except a handful of developments built within the last 20 years. The site was not zoned for residential use, so the development became one of the first in New York to use the city’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability regulation, allowing for the shift from manufacturing to residential.

An homage to the site’s manufacturing past, the building embraces the neighborhood’s identity in the dark grey brick that makes up the majority of its facade. Golden metal panels provide a bright counterpoint to the brick, with a swath along the seventh floor that aligns MLK Plaza with an adjacent six-story building. Nestled within the band of gold is an open-air terrace that punctuates the block-long facade and regularly hosts activities such as yoga or tai chi instruction. At ground level, a double-height, fully glazed lobby pulls in ample daylight and lends illumination to the streetscape at night. Inside the lobby, the building embraces the graffiti found throughout the neighborhood in a mural of Martin Luther King Jr. created by local artists, Tats Cru.

“The project is a great example of well-done affordable housing,” noted a juror. “The industrial theme shines through with the use of materials and expansive glass windows.”

Thirty-three units have been set aside for formerly homeless households. In addition to the financial support provided to residents by the community, the owner and architect worked together to ensure the health and wellness of the building’s occupants. A gym on the seventh floor, a rarity among affordable housing projects, is a free and convenient way for residents to stay fit without having to leave the building. The team relied heavily on natural light, proven to enhance mental health, throughout the project, evident in the large windows found in the lobby, gym, and individual apartments.

MLK Plaza’s height, which is taller than most neighborhood buildings, provides ample opportunities for exceptional views of the city and sharing them was a key design intent. The open-air terrace and gym ensure that every resident can enjoy the city vista, while the upper corridors provide even more views.

Photo: Miguel de Guzman
Photo: David Sundberg
Photo: Miguel de Guzman
Photo: David Sundberg

Structural and Civil Engineer: CityScape Engineering

MEP: Johnson & Urban

Environmental: Brinkerhoff Environmental

LEED: Bright Power

General Contractor: Real Builders


Emily Roush-Elliott, AIA (Jury Chair), Delta Design Build Workshop, Greenwood, Mississippi

Valarie D. Franklin, AIA, NOMA, NCARB, Gresham Smith, Nashville, Tennessee

Michael E. Willis, FAIA, NOMA, Oakland, California

Guido Hartray, AIA, Marvel Architects, New York, New York

S. Claire Conroy, AIA Allied Member, SOLA Group Inc., Chicago, Illinois

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