Bronx River House rendering by Kiss + Cathcart Architects.

The Bronx River Alliance, whose efforts to revitalize New York City’s only freshwater river have restored habitats for beavers, eels, and fish and opened up new opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, will soon move into its new home, the aptly named Bronx River House.

The 7,000-square-foot single story building in Starlight Park will function as a boathouse, environmental education center, community gathering space, and headquarters. Just steps from a dock that the Alliance uses to launch paddling activities, the building will open later this year as the culmination of a ten-year process. The construction of the NYC Parks project is being managed by the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC).

Bronx River House Site Plan. Rendering by Kiss + Cathcart Architects.

“We’re almost home,” says Maggie Greenfield, the Alliance’s Executive Director and Bronx River Administrator for NYC Parks. The Alliance is currently housed in a Parks Department building, about a quarter-mile from the river.

Earlier this month, the Bronx River Alliance hosted a day-long celebration that served to both highlight its past accomplishments and introduce its new facility.  The event included hard hat tours of the building under construction, canoeing, and other activities. It was attended by hundreds of local residents, including many who volunteer with the organization. Also present were State Assembly Member Marcos Crespo and officials from NYC Parks and Con Edison, exemplifying the public and private sector support for the organization.

The Bronx River flows from suburban Westchester County to the East River, passing through the Bronx Zoo and several neighborhoods of the South Bronx where historically it was inaccessible and polluted. Veronica Vanterpool, a Bronx native who chairs the board of the Bronx River Alliance, notes that thanks to new parks and cleanups, many residents are rediscovering the river. Besides people, animals and plants are returning too as the water quality improves, including fish and eels using a ladder recently installed at River Park that allows them to bypass a historic dam, and beavers who have been spotted by Bronx Zoo staff.

Architect Gregory Kiss

The Alliance’s new home embodies its environmental mission. Designed by architect Gregory Kiss, Bronx River House aims to be the greenest building in New York City. It will be a zero-net energy building, meaning it will produce at least as much electricity as it uses. It will achieve this through green building systems including a solar panel roof, living wall layered with vines and moss, and geothermal heat pump (heating and cooling system) using wells that extend 1,500 feet below-grade. The building will not emit any air pollutants as its green systems will enable it to operate without a fossil fuel powered boiler.

Rainwater from the site will be harvested for a variety of functions such as irrigating the living wall vegetation, which will reduce runoff into the river and minimize the use of City potable water. There also will be a terrace adjacent to the building that will host outdoor activities.

Bronx River House entrance. Rendering by Kiss + Cathcart Architects.

The project, which was initially designed in 2007 and received an award from the NYC Public Design Commission, actually benefited from a delay in implementation as solar panels have become more efficient and less expensive in recent years.

Birds-eye view showing Bronx River House and future bridge. Rendering by Kiss + Cathcart Architects.

The site is on the west side of the river and is accessible by the Bronx River Greenway’s bicycle/walking path. A planned new pedestrian bridge will link River House with the neighborhood to the east by spanning not only the river but a nearby Amtrak rail line that currently cuts off the river from that part of the community. To the west of the site is the Sheridan Expressway, a highway that the state plans to convert to a boulevard, which will create more pedestrian connectivity.

Note the Bronx River House’s solar panel roof in background

The Bronx River Alliance hosts canoeing events on a regular basis

Next, read about Bronx River beavers, zip-line at the Bronx Zoo, and a floating farm on the Bronx River. Contact the author @Jeff_Reuben