How do we know if a building fits the aesthetic and culture of a neighborhood? Who's to say? Seems like it's up to the people of the neighborhood. Not some developer who trumpets hollow talking points about abstract cultural influences. Not the new arrivals for whom the building was built and who, yeah, might think a building fits the area's aesthetic because it fits the only aesthetic they've ever known – they didn't experience the brick townhouses before the introduction of glassy prefab slabs. They have no memory and little stake.
In neighborhoods choked and sabotaged by derelict governments and ignored by private investors, we hail modern, somewhat radical buildings that serve the community – for example, some of the funkier supportive housing developments for formerly homeless adults and families like Breaking Ground's Boston Road. The new apartments feature foreign colors and materials or tower above the old, but people tend to consider them progressive and as indicators of investment (which they are).
What about a building that straddles both sides of the debate by delivering something for the existing neighborhood while also sticking out controversially in a historic, celebrated neighborhood whose residents have experienced neglect and exploitation by city government, corporations and property owners.
The Sugar Hill Project, an affordable housing complex for the poorest New Yorkers, features two giant, dark gray concrete blocks stacked precariously above the Polo Grounds pit – a disastrous Bob Moses 'urban renewal' initiative that destroyed the old Giants' baseball stadium and resulted in de facto segregation and isolation of thousands of poor people of color – on the border of Harlem and Washington Heights.
The neo-Brutalist behemoth faced criticism during construction and upon opening in 2014. It certainly stands out, but much of the backlash seemed to reflect typical knee-jerk reactions to Brutalist structures as 'institutional', 'cold, 'totalitarian' or just plain 'Soviet' (It seems that political conservatives are typically the ones who link this style of architecture with our country's failed Communist enemies as though they have an agenda to defame inclusive, simple structures that contrast with the columned, neo-Classical traditional seats of power).
I don't live in Washington Heights or Harlem, I only work in the neighborhoods. My opinion doesn't really matter except that I do think this is a cool building. The universality of the basic shape - two imprecisely stacked blocks - appeals to me and I think the black concrete is ballsy and powerful.