Cottage Industry: Design Competition Hopes to Preserve a Brooklyn Block

Three 1931 houses in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn will be renovated as part of a unique design competition sponsored by a developer and real estate firm.


On the outset there’s nothing particularly special about these three tiny cottages in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. But according to Tina Fallon of real estate agency Realty Collective, the circa 1931 structures may be some of the increasingly rare architectural holdouts in a rapidly transforming area–there’s already the gourmet grocery Fairway and an Ikea around the corner, heck, the The Real World: Brooklyn was even filmed nearby. So her company persuaded local developer Gino Vitale, who owns the properties, to bring awareness to Red Hook’s changing community and small, forgotten houses everywhere by launching the Conover Cottage design competition. The top concepts for each cottage will be awarded $1,000, but more interestingly, the winning
proposals will all be built.

Most of Red Hook’s 11,000 residents live in what are called Red Hook Houses, which were completed in 1938 as part of a WPA initiative. The six-story brown brick apartment buildings still dominate the landscape, but a few pockets of these homes that escaped the bulldozers’ paths. “There are a couple of scattered examples of these small, wood-framed
single-family cottages on other blocks in ‘the Back,'” Fallon says about the specific area of this gentrifying neighborhood. “But this is the
only continuous stretch of which I am aware.” Preserving this stretch will also prevent misguided developments that Fallon has observed on the same block, pointing to a “tragic” mixed-use building recently decried on the blog Brownstoner as “a Growing Up Gotti kind of Fedderstastic” (it’s pretty awful).

Designs for a fourth cottage have already been approved, and as renovations begin on that this spring, the organizers will collect findings about the building’s history and infrastructure on a blog, that will also serve as an urban archeological dig of sorts. “We are hoping to discover as much history as we can through this process,” says Fallon. “There is a (probably apocryphal) story that they were floated across Buttermilk Channel from Governors Island.” Try working that into your concept! Designers and architects can download the request for proposal from the Web site, and submissions are due June 1.

[The Conover Cottages]

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.