MHANY and Friends Celebrate 1921 Cortelyou Road

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA, Partner

This week, ESKW/Architects was honored to attend long-time client MHANY Management’s annual benefit in support of their mission of developing affordable housing for low- and moderate-income New York families. This year, MHANY’s event celebrated the innovative development partnership at 1921 Cortelyou Road. In addition to the wonderful company, there was great music, bowling, and plenty of tasty food.

While speaking to the collected group, Executive Director Ismene Speliotis explained that while every development has its own interesting story, 1921 Cortelyou Road’s is especially remarkable. She invited some of the key players to share a bit of our own stories related to the project. The mini speeches were beautiful, and they inspired us as the architects to share a bit more here.

ESKW/A’s introduction to the Baptist Church of the Redeemer at 1921 Cortelyou Road was through a limited design competition in 2008. Our scheme was selected as the winning design (see below right), and our team was poised to bring a new church combined with affordable and supportive housing into reality. At the event this week, Reverend Sharon Williams shared her perspective from 2008: “A vision without action is an illusion.” Unfortunately, the development team at the time was unable to take solid action so the project paused.

So let’s back up. The phenomenon at work is this: Many churches around the city, and specifically Brooklyn (the “borough of churches”), own properties that need significant repair and maintenance. As congregations age, care of the facilities becomes challenging. With the real estate market being as competitive as it is in NYC, developers look for creative opportunities to purchase or partner with individuals or organizations such as churches that can benefit from a development team’s expertise. The concern in this scenario is to protect the church organization from predatory development. Enter non-profit organizations such as LISC NYC who assist in pairing developers, property owners, and attorneys who help protect the interests of the churches.

In the case of 1921 Cortelyou Road, the Baptist Church of the Redeemer needed a match. After making a connection with the Church through the success of the design competition, ESKW/A Partner Andrew Knox went to work to help find that match. He found it in Ismene and MHANY Management along with Brooklyn Community Services and Turning Point Brooklyn. The shared goals and personal chemistry among the groups and the Reverend was exactly what was needed to jump-start the project.

To say “the rest is history” is a bit simplistic for any development, but overly true for this project. MHANY and their team along with ESKW/A set out to do something special in the mixed use of residential and church uses. The intention was always for a successful partnership between the two and that each could support the other. The Church has a long history of community support and inter-faith advocacy, and they run a weekly soup kitchen program. When the Reverend learned more about the missions of Turning Point and Brooklyn Community Services and that theirs is the only NYC program dedicated to housing homeless young women between the ages of 18-24, she wanted to support even further. Out of her portion of the development funds, she decided to dedicate church space for Turning Point Brooklyn’s “We Care About You” Shower Program for the homeless. March is also Women’s History Month and this project was unusual for typical development in that a majority of the team members and leaders are women. Rev. Williams gathered them all for a photo at the groundbreaking.

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The project story is also one of preservation and history. The existing 1920s neo-Romanesque church building had been unused for many years. Its handsome exterior was past the point of repair; however, many interior elements were intact and could be salvaged for reuse.

The architectural team identified items, reviewed the proposal with the church, and documented pieces for careful salvage by Mega Contracting Group, the general contractor, and their demolition team. Pews were photographed, measured, and cataloged. Stained glass panels were documented, and designs prepared for new interior display. Hymn boards and other easily movable items were prepared for secure storage and reuse. To everyone’s great lamentation, it was not feasible to save everything; the brass pipe organ and 24-inch diameter, 30-foot tall granite columns couldn’t be salvaged.

The design process for the Baptist Church was immersive, pun intended. Architects attended Rev. Williams’ service and spent time learning about their full-immersion baptism ceremony, which is central to their doctrine. Understanding the procession of the service, and the needs for changing rooms and accommodations for all ages who come to be baptized, the architects sculpted the sanctuary accordingly. Sky lights and curved ceiling planes make the new sanctuary welcoming, calm, and modern, allowing the service to be the feature. Physical and virtual models were studied to ensure that daylight washed the sanctuary as intended.

The approximately 15,000 square feet of church space is separate from the housing with only utility service spaces being shared. The 76 housing units are an integrated mix of senior housing, affordable housing, and supportive housing with common spaces for programs and resident use including a community room, an activity room, laundry, and two rooftop terraces. The units are studio, one-, and two-bedroom units each with solid wood floors, solid wood kitchen millwork, and large windows.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 30, 2018, and currently the project is under construction. The existing church has been demolished, the site has been excavated, and new foundations are in place. Early this spring, first floor planks will be set, and soon the corner of Ocean Avenue and Cortelyou Road will come to life as the nine-story building takes shape. And you can bet on the ribbon-cutting ceremony being one that shouldn’t be missed!

We’re excited to share more of the background and progress of this remarkable project, so stay tuned. Congratulations to MHANY Management for bringing us all together and making sure that this beautiful vision didn’t become an illusion.

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Architecture Day at PS11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary in Brooklyn

PS11 Arch Day Fall 18_10Almost 50 third through fifth graders from PS11 joined 14 architect and designer volunteers on Saturday, November 10, for Architecture Day. The subject of this session’s study was the students’ own playground and garden.

The students were divided into seven groups based on assignment:

  • Existing building analysis and facade redesign
  • Outdoor classroom design
  • Vegetable/farm/garden
  • Animal holding
  • Kitchen/café/food prep
  • Treehouse
  • Play structure

To begin, students gathered for an inspirational slideshow, or “precedent studies” as architects call them, to see examples of each area. They reacted strongly to the images, both positively and negatively! Students then spent some time outside thinking about which area they wanted for their component.

Each team then met and discussed the best location for their particular assignment within the 150-by-130-foot project site, and one delegate from each team gathered to “master plan” the garden. To develop consensus on the location for each component, the teams went to work—right after a lunch of pizza, fruit, and salad.

After each team’s individual elements were completed, they brought all pieces together into the composite site model. Marveling at the detail and imagination put into each area, students watched each other present and followed up with questions.

At the end of the session, they left with a goodie bag full of paints, pencils, and a pencil case, compliments of Blick Art Materials. The completed 5-by-6-foot model will be on display at PS11 for all students to see.

Thank you to PS11 for hosting us, and a big shoutout to the event’s generous sponsors: the Society for Clinton Hill, Blick Art Materials, and the PS11 PTA!

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Remembering Judy Edelman

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of one our founders, Judith Edelman.

Her legacy of designing housing, health clinics, and other community-focused buildings for New York City’s most vulnerable populations still guides the firm today. She remains a pioneer and role model to women architects and to the industry as a whole.

 

To learn more about her, visit the links below.

  • She describes her motivation and experience being an architect in an interview on our own blog from 2012.
  • As one of the first women in a male-dominated field, she earned the moniker “Dragon Lady”.
  • For a more extensive biography, see her obituary in The New York Times.
  • In 1975, she appeared on Sesame Street to show children what an architect is and does.

Please visit the Legacy and Profile sections of our website for more about Judy and our office’s history.

Ribbon Cutting, Revitalization, and Refreshments

September 20th marked the Ribbon Cutting of 1561 Walton Avenue and the renovation of the New Settlement Apartments. ESKW/A are the Architects for 1561 Walton Avenue, which is the latest project in our over 30-year working relationship with Settlement Housing Fund (SHF), which includes the nearby New Settlement Community Campus.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Alexa Sewell, President of SHF, welcomed a gathering of over 50 representatives including government officials, financial partners, developers, contractors, and—of course—architects. We are honored that she described 1561 Walton Avenue as a “gorgeous building,” which is SHF’s 18th to date.

“It takes a lot to make this happen: not only resources, but the values of fairness and justice, and multiple bright minds,” Sewell said. “This project represents former CEO Carol Lamberg and SHF’s huge commitment to the neighborhood, and we’ve remained steadfastly committed to it.”

But the real reason everyone was there, she added, is the residents, “who are ultimately the bedrock of this community.”

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Sewell then welcomed up Joseph Ferdinand, who lives in the new building, to say a few words.

“I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t really believe in perfection. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’m being real,” Ferdinand said, before describing a rather perfect scenario enjoying his new apartment and performing all the seemingly simple tasks of upkeep and care within it, doing so with a notable sense of pride and responsibility.

Before Sewell invited RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner/CEO of NYS Homes and Community Renewal, to the podium, she noted that it was RuthAnne’s birthday and led the room in a round of “Happy Birthday.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than celebrating this project,” Visnauskas said, noting the holistic approach the Bronx community has taken to revitalization, including building a healthcare facility, arts center, and infrastructure. She also added that since 2001, Governor Cuomo and his office have helped finance 14,000 apartments, and last year the Bronx marked its lowest level of unemployment in 18 years at 4.8 percent, a direct result of these revitalization efforts.

The final speaker was Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). She congratulated all the stakeholders and partners in attendance for working together.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

“Projects like these aren’t a marathon or a sprint,” Torres-Springer said. “They’re a relay.”

And with that, attendees sprinted (read: walked briskly) to 1561 Walton Avenue’s ground-floor community room for refreshments. We were honored to be a part of the ceremony and the project—and are proud to continue the work of building affordable housing in New York City into the future. Thank you to SHF and the Briarwood Organization!

(Daughtry Carstarphen, our Project Manager on 1561 Walton Avenue, recently left ESKW/A to become VP for Capital Projects at BRC. We miss her around the office but were very happy that she was able to reunite for the celebration.)

 

#AskAnArchitect with Kimberly Murphy

The American Institute of Architecture Students stopped by recently to kick off the second season of their #AskAnArchitect series. Kimberly talks about work-life balance, gives advice about how to find the right firm, and reminisces on her own college days. Thanks, AIAS!

Emphasizing Color at the Murphy Clubhouse Pool

2018DS10 Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse PoolThe official photos of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club’s Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse Pool are in, so we thought it was an ideal opportunity to tell the color story of the project.

The design team used a neutral background palette of grays, white, and natural wood, a decision inspired by the look and feel of luxury spas. “When you let the context be subtle and simple, it’s easy to make other things stand out,” explained Annie Kountz, an architectural designer on the project.

The pool itself is a rich blue due to a special pigment in the plaster. It was envisioned as a deep plane that would lay in contrast to the soft surroundings. “Most rec pools are an aqua or turquoise color, but this blue really pops,” Kountz said.

The existing pool ventilation was outdated and insufficient, so a primary goal of the project was to replace the system which included a round duct above the pool deck. “The duct is actually fabric instead of sheet metal, which allowed for the bright orange color,” said Janine Sutton Golub, another architect on the team. “Blue and orange are complementary, so it doesn’t take anything away. It mimics and outlines the pool’s shape.”

Even with the central focus of blue and orange color at the pool, the design highlights the real stars of the space: the children themselves. As the photos show, their energy and activity take center stage against a neutral, although not uninteresting, backdrop. The design concept was to create a strong tile mosaic that commenced in the lobby and extended into the pool room. The final solution is a massive 90-foot mosaic comprised of white, black, and gray glass tiles by Architectural Ceramics. “There are also hints of beige and a shimmer,” added Kountz.

The development of the mural image became a project of its own. “At first, we thought we’d use an image of an Olympic swimmer, and we searched for inspiring stock images of swimmers, but there were no appropriate images,” Kountz explained. “So we thought, why not just take pictures of the kids? It’s much more meaningful.”

The club’s owner’s rep, LOM Properties, connected with an underwater photographer who volunteered to hold a photoshoot with 30 swimmers from the Murphy Club. The photoshoot resulted in images and still shots from video that were composed and rendered into the mosaic image by the architects. Shadows, light, and bubbles were added to create depth. The image was taken by the tile sub-contractor, pixelized, and samples were created for the architect’s review. Upon approval, the matted tile sheets were numbered, laid out, and then installed on the pool.

The kids take immense pride in their new space (in an earlier post, one graded the work an A+++).

The mural extends into the new open lobby, creating a central hub. “When you look in, you see the blue, and see the wall going into the pool. But up close, the wall is kind of an abstract scene,” said Kountz. “When you sit in the viewing area and look across, it’s a big statement.”

Extending The Bridge at the Partners in Caring Awards Gala

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ESKW/A team members mingle before the evening’s program begins.

On June 6, The Bridge held its 2018 Partners in Caring Awards Gala. In celebrating the organization’s work, two individuals were honored with awards, and funds were raised to bring help, hope, and opportunity to thousands of New Yorkers.

Cynthia C. Wainright, president of The Bridge’s board of directors, opened with remarks noting the agency’s 64 years of service. Currently, it houses 1,385 individuals from vulnerable populations in 24 buildings, two shelters, and over 500 apartments throughout the five boroughs.

“And next month, we will open a 66-unit residence on Maple Street in Brooklyn, which will support another 50 adults with serious mental illness and provide 16 affordable housing units for families,” Wainright added.

Wainright was referring to our East New York Avenue project with The Bridge. “No pressure,” one of our team members teased the project manager. The building is rapidly nearing completion.

An incredibly moving video showed Bridge clients living in their spaces and participating in programming that includes art therapy, horticulture therapy, and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) sessions. Residents marveled at how now they simply feel free and safe in their new homes. A service staff member encouraged them that this is not their last step either, as many clients have transitioned through Bridge shelters and programs to permanent housing. The video closed with the poem “Myself” by Edgar Guest.

“The stories were tear-jerking,” said Sunčića Jašarović, one of our architectural designers. “What a wonderful organization.”

After the video, a client named Gregory spoke about his success story. Having spent 15 years with The Bridge, he has earned his GED, begun a career in maintenance at Bellevue Hospital, and become a U.S. Citizen.

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Mike Ong, project manager on East New York Avenue (somewhat seen behind him).

“I try to achieve in life,” Gregory said. “If I didn’t believe in achieving, I wouldn’t have come this far.”

The Curtis Berger Award was given to Gary Hattem, an advisor to nonprofit organizations. His work with banks, trusts, and foundations has helped make The Bridge’s work possible.

“Society has experienced a loss of social cohesion and what holds us together, but The Bridge brings everyone together in a common cause, in a feeling of unity and purpose,” Hattem said. “Everyone has a place in New York City. Everyone has an opportunity.”

The Partner in Caring Inspiration Award went to Leslie Jamison, an author, instructor at Columbia, and graduate of Harvard as well as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her writing details her own battles with addiction and her journey to recovery. Guests received a hardcover of her most recent work, The Recovering. (And a tote bag. And a potted plant centerpiece, if they desired.)

“I found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Bridge,” Jamison said. “When I was fighting my addiction, I had access to all the resources—good doctors and therapists, a recovery community, supportive friends and family—that could help me recover. But many of The Bridge’s clients don’t have these resources available to them. The Bridge gives them access to all kinds of support they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The night was an awe-inspiring celebration of the work the agency, architects, developers, and other groups have done—and a dynamic urge for the work to continue.

“The most important part of our work is that we are making it possible for people living in shelters, on the street, or in psychiatric hospitals to move into safe and affordable housing—fully furnished and equipped—so they can get their lives back on track. It’s a very tangible impact,” Carole Gordon, senior vice president for housing development at The Bridge, told us after the event. “The gala brought together people from so many walks of life. Hopefully they left with a good feeling and want to continue to support us in whatever way they can.”

If the donation thermometer is any indicator (it surpassed the $20,000 goal within minutes and was still rising as we left), then these efforts are sure to continue. And if this photo booth flip book is another indicator, then it’s a safe bet that people walked away with good feelings too.