Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
November 5, 2003:
Carlton Brown Í73 is cofounder of a Harlem-based real estate
development company. Below, a West African symbol used as
a decorative motif in his latest building.
A green building
grows in Harlem
Carlton Brown 73 designs new model for affordable housing
The stucco and brick building that fills a city block just north
of Manhattans Central Park may look much like the half dozen
other apartment buildings under construction in lower Harlem, but
its not. On Fifth Avenue, between 115th and 116th Streets,
stands the latest product of developer Carlton A. Brown 73,
who builds affordable housing that connects urban African Americans
to their cultural heritage and to the high-tech world.
How do we develop architecture that reflects who we are
as a people and integrates that into the fabric of the 21st century?
he asks. How do we rebuild a community in a way that encourages
average people to take control?
Brown, who started Full Spectrum Building and Development, a Harlem-based
real estate development company, in 1988 with coprincipal Walter
Edwards, has found answers on many fronts. Brown believes building
practices that use recyclable and recycled materials and energy-efficient
designs often called green practices are
one way of translating African architecture and values into a modern
urban setting, a concern of his since his years at Princetons
School of Architecture. The West African symbol for sturdiness will
be a prominent decorative motif throughout the apartment building
on Fifth Avenue.
building will use 40 percent less energy than a comparable urban
apartment complex, and will minimize the use of fossil fuels by
tapping into a nearby resource the grounds supply of
geothermal energy for heating and air conditioning. The girders
will support walls made of composite plaster and synthetic plastics
with more than twice the insulating power of typical materials.
Brown also is committed to creating a space that is a portal to
a broader world. There is still a digital divide between
the black and Latino communities and nonminority communities, he
explains. To bridge it, you need the infrastructure.
He installed public terminals and fiber-optic cables, and there
is wireless Internet access in the hallways and courtyard. The apartment
building will give residents this neighborhoods first taste
In his office, cable samples and a dusty white hard hat share
space on his cluttered desk with the writings of W. E. B. DuBois.
Brown and his partner have worked on other affordable housing projects
in New York City, as well as on two hospitals in Brooklyn, a courthouse
in Queens, and the lower Manhattan campus of Stuyvesant High School.
Construction on the Fifth Avenue complex should be finished by
the end of the year. Partially financed by city, state, and federal
housing subsidies, 85 of the 128 condominium units are designated
for households with annual incomes between $53,000 and $103,000
households that have been frozen out of the Manhattan housing
market because they make too much for traditional subsidized houses
but cant afford market-rate homes. This project demonstrates
that there is a different model of doing business in communities
like this one, says Brown. I hope it will help people
in Harlem to see themselves differently and to see their community
By Kristen Fountain 96
Kristen Fountain is a freelance writer in New York City.