Sculpting the Ground Plane: St. Lucy’s Path

St Lucy-site plan final final

St. Lucy’s Housing, comprised of two facing buildings on 103rd St. and 104th St. in East Harlem, is currently undergoing renovations throughout. The two buildings provide 100 units of affordable housing to families and seniors. Renovations include work on the corridors, cellars, community spaces, as well as upgrades to the elevators, heating, and roofing systems. A significant intervention, however, is the creation of a series of ramps and sloped ground planes that unify the two buildings, resulting in a community space for tenant’s recreation in its wake. The path was an opportunity to reactivate the courtyard, under-utilized for many years, while outfitting St. Lucy’s for comprehensive ADA-accessibility.

St Lucy-perspective

Connecting the Buildings

The ramp’s beginning and ending points are the entries of each of the facing buildings, creating an opportunity for a resident or visitor to move through the entirety of the property. Meandering through each building and the courtyard, the path negotiates a hierarchy of spaces while unifying the buildings into one community. Although the series effectively breaks down the scale of the buildings, a resident or visitor can transverse an entire city block using the ramps.

Our task was to upgrade temporary ramps to provide accessibility to the buildings, but we saw an opportunity to go beyond that. The ramps were elongated and made a gentler pitch, not only eliminating the need for handrails, but also exchanging the buildings’ entry points. The set-up allows residents and visitors to move freely from building to building through the entirety of the yard. The geometry and texture of the ramps change in response to the surrounding context, materials, and location to achieve the desired sense of each space.

O:Grace tempst lucycadst lucy _XX Layout2 (1)

The concept was to create the illusion of a ramp organically arising from the street sidewalks using materials similar in tone, texture, and color. As the path extends into the finished lobby, the materials transition to porcelain tile flooring, and then back into concrete as it moves into the courtyard.

O:Grace tempst lucycadlobby elev A702 (1)

One-inch-thick ipe wood was used for the benches that populate the lobby and corridor. By staggering the benches on either side of the corridor, the design shifts the natural flow of movement from one entry to another.

Court Yard Experience

The path in the courtyard was designed to be a multi-functional object. Although primarily comprised of concrete, wood benches arise from the ramp, carrying over the aesthetic from the lobby. Within the courtyard, the path’s generous width not only accommodates wheel chairs, but also encourages promenading, pausing, and socializing.

While the ramp is a unifying force, its geometrically differentiated parts create a sense of identity for residents of each building. The ramp emerging from the W. 103rd St. building, retrofit to the current condition, lands on an existing planting area. The curve disintegrates into pavers and finally a garden, integrating with the ground itself and beckoning a visitor to explore and play. Two pure arcs radiate from the 104th St. building, wrapping existing trees. Residents can find respite on the benches for reading, socializing, or watching over children. Located under existing trees, the benches provide a shaded seating area and walkway along newly designed landscape.


Caption: Plaster and wood were used to create a small scale model of a portion of the ramp to study details between materials.

The path utilizes surfaces that won’t require much maintenance: evergreen plantings, dirt, concrete pavers, and crushed gravel harmonize with existing materials. Existing trees became the center of seating areas and the arc of the paths.

ST Lucy_Elevation


Our goal was to create a feeling that one will have “been moved” by the sculpted path. Although subtly perceptible, the experience crafted through morphing geometry and evolving textures enhances the connection between the two buildings.

Check in for updates on St. Lucy’s Housing. The project is currently under construction and will be completed in Fall 2013.


ESKW/A project team: Daughtry Carstarphen, Grace Lee, Andrew Knox