Diego Beekman Houses Design Workshop: Improving the Quality of Life through Design

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South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SOBRO)
Tenants United for Better Living


Victor Body-Lawson, architect

Design Trust fellow Victor Body-Lawson brought together the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Tenants United for Better Living on a month-long intensive design charette that addressed public space issues at Diego Beekman Houses. This low-income, scattered-site housing development in the South Bronx was slated for major capital improvements. Residents were convinced that well-designed open spaces were an essential complement to their ongoing efforts to reduce crime and drug activity and to reclaim their neighborhood. The tenants' intimate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their buildings and community, as well as their determination to restore a level of comfort, safety, and beauty to their homes, were indispensable to the project.

Mr. Body-Lawson led a group of residents through field studies and an intensive design workshop at the tenant organization’s offices. Together they formulated an extensive problem summary, established a set of principles to inform design interventions, and developed a series of guidelines and recommendations addressing buildings, urban environment, safety, and social services.

The resulting report, Improving Quality of Life through Design, was published in both English and Spanish and submitted to HUD for consideration as part of its planned renovation and refinancing of the buildings. Based on its recommendations, HUD continued to fund Mr. Body-Lawson as a tenant representative on design development.

In 2002, in what has been described as "the largest tenant takeover of a federal housing project in the country," Tenants United for Better Living took ownership of their own homes. In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an association led by Beekman residents have assumed control of the development's 38 buildings and 1,200 apartments. Read more in articles from City Limits Magazine and the New York Daily News.

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