Carmi Bee

Winter 2009

Carmi Bee

Carmi Bee – Rothzeid, Kaiserman, Thomson & Bee (RKT&B)
Partner, President of the company

Carmi Bee, FAIA, a graduate of The Cooper Union and Princeton University, is the president of RKT&B, a registered architect in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and an educator as well as practicing architect. Bee has partnered with Pittsburgh Corning for several projects, and submitted his own product design ideas to the company. His ideas contributed to the Focus™ pattern Block, one of Pittsburgh Corning’s new design products. Bee has provided his insights to PC on sustainability, technology, the industry’s generational shift and many other topics, but his most recent passion is affordable housing. Below are excerpts of a conversation with Carmi Bee.

After practicing for 40 years and shaping the environment of a city like New York, what’s your next ambition?
First I can tell you, it won’t be retirement. Architecture is a way of life and a profession that gives you a responsibility to the greater community. To that end, I have some focuses that I’m particularly interested in. One is developing affordable housing. In the last couple years, I’ve developed a prototypical urban housing design that can be reproduced inexpensively.

And we’ve already built several of these houses. At Prospect Gardens in Brooklyn, we developed two identical six-story buildings, each with four duplex and four simplex apartments around an innovative glass-enclosed stairwell. Built in 2004 at $130 a square foot in Park Slope, it sold out in one day at more than four times its cost.

How did this idea come to you?
In school, my thesis was on strategies for developing affordable housing. So I’ve had this in my mind all these years. Metro areas tend to be subdivided into similar increments. In a city like New York, because of the grid system, the range isn’t different – 16, 18, 20 feet wide homes and lots. In the bureaus, many of these building have burned down or been torn down and there are these comparable pockets of unused space. This is a strategy to replenish that stock with a repetitive type of housing unit that can be reproduced inexpensively.

For example, most are four stories high, no elevator, with one stairwell. Walking up four stories isn’t the worst thing in the world – I live in a brownstone and do it all the time. So we save on the elevator. Each building has 8 units with a combination of one, two and three bedroom apartments.

What makes this concept important?
Because I think it’s important to maintain a balance of income groups in cities to make them vital. You can’t have a city that’s all wealthy or all poor. In NYC we have a large number of immigrants and they don’t have housing near work, they have to travel a long distance. It’s just vital to have a heterogeneous community. It’s what cities are about – having different classes of people.

Can you provide some examples of what you are doing?
We’re doing alot in areas of Brooklyn’s – and that’s where I’m actually using glass block. In affordable housing, there’s always this problem of security. Glass block can provide that security, but just as importantly, by using it in the stairwells, we can bring light into areas close to the street. It’s much better to use than bars on the windows, and it brings in light and it allows the building to glow and have light pour onto the street at night.

For more information on Carmi Bee and RTK&B, visit www.rktb.com