Colorful Classrooms are still Going Strong

By Kimberly Murphy

On June 9, 2014, NY Times writer Jan Hoffman authored an article calling into question the highly decorated, colorful classrooms that we all probably grew up with and where our kids/nieces/nephews are probably currently attending. Here at ESKW/A, we embrace, celebrate, promote, and adore colors so we were especially curious to read Ms. Hoffman’s article. A study performed by Carnegie Mellon looked at the test results of classrooms richly adorned with decoration and ones with stark walls. It’s nice to think that the physical environment was the critical factor in the test results, because as architects we truly believe in the value of the well built environment; however a little thing called teachers might have had an impact as well. We have a hard time believing that scalloped borders on displays are “visually damaging” children. We do applaud a strong stance either way and agree with the notion that the images on the walls should be created by the students in the room.

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The study is admittedly narrow, but since it does place importance on the physical classroom environment we would like to ask for ceiling heights, natural light, and artificial lighting variables to be measured. We bet money that the results will point to improved performance in an improved space. We also think that better space makes for happier teachers and we all want that. Spaces that are well crafted and maintained are places of pride which all schools strive to be.

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We’ve been in many, many classrooms and designed a fair number of them as well. Yes, some classrooms can look like a circus of colors and distractions, but don’t run out for the gray paint just yet! Organized compositions of color and a structure of displays and delineation of various spatial functions can go a long way to improve the modern classroom. Call us, we can help.

Awards Season!

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Not to toot our own horn too loudly, but we’re proud to announce that recent ESKW/A projects have been honored with awards! New Settlement Community Campus, submitted with Dattner Architects, received an Excelsior Award, a new program from AIA New York State honoring outstanding Public Architecture.  Our men’s homeless shelter for Project Renewal at 4380 Bronx Boulevard was recently completed and received a Boston Society of Architects Housing Design Award.

We wanted to take this opportunity to share some of our favorite detail photos of each project which don’t often get promoted. Thank you to AIA New York State and Boston Society of Architects for recognizing our projects.

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Celebrating Very Special Mothers at Hour Children’s Ribbon Cutting

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Hour Children Inc. celebrated their official ribbon cutting at the recently completed Hour Apartment House III. Among the many honored guests were Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Greg Birch from New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Brett Hebner from the Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation, and Deputy Director Raymond Hodges from NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Each honored guest remarked on the beauty of the building stating that this project is more than affordable housing: it’s housing that lends dignity and is a place of healing, blessing, and hope.

The 18 families at Hour Apartment House III are all formerly incarcerated mothers who have reunited with their children and are on a journey to improve the lives of their families. The event was particularly poignant as we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. This brings us to the most powerful part of the ribbon cutting: the women and children who spoke to the group. These speakers shared their stories of struggle, encouragement, and triumph all at the hand of Sister Tesa Fitzgerald and the staff of Hour Children. One young man spoke with wisdom beyond his years of life being like an arrow: “sometimes you have to be pulled backwards to shoot forward.”  Another woman, Vinita, spoke about her many struggles and how Sister Tesa never gave up on her, pulled her out of difficult situations, and sent regular letters of encouragement to her while she was incarcerated. Vinita, who loves to talk, then faced Sister Tesa head-on and said, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

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With Mother’s Day coming this weekend, we are very happy to acknowledge the amazing and inspiring women at Hour Apartment House III. All mothers struggle to do the best for their children and the journey these women are on is one we are proud to be part of. We are glad to see them all taking pride in their new apartments and forming a strong community where borrowing a cup of sugar is no big deal.

We are especially inspired by Sister Tesa, without whom the program wouldn’t exist and countless lives would have taken a very different path. She is fearlessly committed to helping these mothers and missed no opportunity to remind the funders and politicians that they would be hearing from her again very soon!

Architect: ESKW/A; General Contractor: Fazio Construction

 

Make Them Visible

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The New York City Rescue Mission, now and then, from http://www.nycrescue.org. 

The New York City Rescue Mission provides both short- and long-term support services for the city’s homeless, from housing, to food, to counseling. Through their new campaign “Make them Visible,” the Mission focuses on exposing how most of us see homeless people on the street. The project was featured on Huffington Post.

The production dressed up people in ragged garb and placed them on a sidewalk, knowing that relatives or spouses would pass. Every person they secretly taped walked right on by; in the most startling instance, a man looked his wife of 34 years. She was wrapped in blankets and had costume makeup on, but she was certainly recognizable. You might want to have a tissue handy when you watch the reactions of the passers-by when they realize that they overlooked their loved ones.

The aim of this social experiment seeks to “put a face to homelessness,” and urges us all to not dehumanize people we pass on the street. The Mission’s website also offers portraits of homeless individuals: George likes rock music; Stanley has a secret recipe for lasagna; and Sean watches history shows. Through these tidbits, the Mission hopes to recast our expectations and stereotypes of people who have no home.

EKSW/A is proud to play a part to help our city’s underserved populations. 4380 Bronx Blvd provides 109 beds to homeless men in the Bronx; True Colors Residence in Harlem permanently houses formerly homeless LGBT youth, and we are currently working to build another such facility in the Bronx.

The NYC Rescue Mission is located on the same block as our office, and we salute the good work they do every day.

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From Left: 4380 Bronx Blvd. (two images), True Colors Residence, True Colors Residence:  Bronx. 

Mother featured in Esquire

Mother Industries, the quirky yet stylish advertising agency, is a hub for all things creative. Esquire recently profiled Paul Malmstrom, the co-founder, in their recently completed Hell’s Kitchen office. Working with designer Steven Sclaroff, ESKW/A was the architect for the conversion of this former warehouse to fit the office’s needs: flexible spaces, better access to light, and unexpected nooks all harbor the firm’s creative spirit.

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As Esquire notes, the offices “could easily be confused for an art gallery, a museum, a furniture shop and perhaps even a construction site.” We’ll take that as a compliment. Windows from the street look into a casual gathering space leaving the passerby wondering exactly what goes on inside this “office”. The centrally located “kitchen” and the bleachers are all untraditional yet effective spaces for the ad-agency. At the client’s request, we kept the rough-hewn floors to preserve the tactility of the old structure, allowing the new furnishings to create an unexpected found object-type aesthetic – a principle that Mother is known for.

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The central Skylight and the open communication stair is the anchor for the space and projects the ethos of the office. As Malmstrom says, “We wanted to make the building feel open where you could see and hear each other clearly,” and the skylight achieves this. We truly appreciate the talent at Mother and appreciate their aesthetic and creative eye. We especially applaud their long-term goal to have miniature cows grazing on their roof deck. This city needs more cows.

Architect: ESKW/A; General Contractor: Vanguard Construction and Development Co., Inc.; Owner’s Rep: ProjectConsult.

Photos from Esquire. 

Charrette for NHSJ

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Taking advantage of the collective talent and experience of the office, Project Architect Philip Jenkin called for an end-of week design charrette for a new commercial project. The client, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica (NHSJ), helps prospective homeowners navigate the messy and often predatory mortgage lending world. They also provide local neighborhood homeowners with classes on maintaining their homes.

Our design task is to renovate and vertically expand the existing two story Federal Style office building into a space that will better facilitate the social services offered by NHSJ. As Philip put it, “We are being asked to raise the roof – quite literally.” The improved building will have two additional floors atop the existing building, new egress, new elevator, and reconfigured office space.

Philip asked the office to (1) develop a concept sketch or diagram of what the building might look like; (2) develop a concept sketch or diagram of how the new addition might interact (structurally, visually, spatially etc.) with the existing building; or (3) think about how the unique program of teaching folks how to repair and maintain their homes can be incorporated in to the architecture. It was a great way to stretch design muscles and discuss collaboratively the possibilities of the project.

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Here are a few of the thoughts developed in the process:

Philip

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Stand up and face the sun!  I used an A-frame, the universal architectural typology for domesticity — and is also symbolic of NHJS’s mission – for my sketch. In an act of contextual defiance, this simplified geometry was placed atop the existing building, and rotated approximately 20 degrees to obtain optimal solar orientation. The geometry was then clipped and cut to conform to the zoning envelope. The result was a jewel-like, faceted geometry that has been optimized for solar orientation, yet one that is typologically familiar.

Kimberly

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Workshop: I like to look at context first and understand who the neighbors of a building are and how they might play together. It’s important to fit in but still be the new, interesting, fun guy on the block, so I started with a strong reveal separating the addition from the existing building preserving the completeness of the small structure. Since the users of the building will need to know about maintaining specific building materials including masonry, siding, shingled roofs, and operable windows with trim, I thought the new addition could act as a workshop or an example of how these systems work together.

Fialka

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In the client’s spirit of educating and supporting homeowners in Queens, NY, my proposed design concept for the rooftop addition is to revealliving’ processes via the water wall and the rooftop grasses.

-Rainwater catchment is on full display in the lot line water wall….manifesting as waterfall in the glass cavity.

-Tall native grasses surround the setback addition as a natural, undulating crown atop the existing neoclassical building.

Building and ‘environment’ are intertwined….atop another building.

Martin

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Because the mission of the NHSJ seeks to build communities through greater home-ownership transparency, my design focused on reflecting a “new openness.” Opening up the floor space in the offices will allow for more communication and a sense of movement and flow, as well as greater productivity. The “glass box” concept allows for these elements; and, carving up the 4th floor as a mezzanine leads to direct and indirect interaction between floors as well as the interior with the exterior.  There are also sustainability elements, too: green systems like water collection and roof gardens bolster the design.

Annie

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I was interested in the relationship between the old and new building. Looking at the ideas of continuation vs. juxtaposition through precedents, I attempted to develop multiple conceptual strategies/diagrams about how we might go about expressing the old/new building relationship.

Philip and the project team have much to think about as they mine these ideas, and, working with the client, take the project through schematic design.