Honor and Hope at the HSU Gala

This year’s Homeless Services United (HSU) Gala marked a record fundraising effort for HSU, and our very own Andrew Knox was among the event’s honorees. The April 18 event was held in Manhattan’s Prince George Ballroom, and its theme of “Elevating Voices, Driving Our Vision” echoed throughout the speeches of the three honorees.

IMG_1631As a result of the city’s Turning the Tide Against Homelessness plan, evictions are down 37% since 2013 and over 100,000 people have been able to overcome their housing crises and obtain or retain permanent housing, Trapani said. Since Commissioner Steven Banks took over the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in 2014, roughly 40 new shelters have been set up, with 180 haphazard, sub-standard sites shutting down.

Events like the HSU Gala ensure that nonprofits can continue their work of providing a continuum of services, quality programming, and coordinated care to those affected by the homelessness crisis.

Accepting the Sr. Barbara Lenniger Legacy Award, founding HSU Board Member Colleen Jackson said the night’s theme of “Elevating Voices” was why organizations like HSU exist. “We’ve tried to give people and organizations large and small a voice to demand an end to destructive and cruel city policies,” she said, noting her work as the former Executive Director and CEO of West End Residences, with whom we’ve worked on two True Colors Residence projects.

 

Jody Rudin, COO of Project Renewal, introduced Andrew, explaining a bit about his first career choice. “Andrew was once an aspiring actor, but he said his character was usually shot by the second act—thankfully for us,” she said. “Because he’s gone on to have a string of blockbuster successes as an architect. Thank you for spending your second act with us.

“This isn’t a little gold man, but it is our version of the Oscars,” Rudin added, bringing Andrew to the stage where images of his ESKW/Architects work were projected above.

In his speech, Andrew illustrated architecture’s role in addressing the homelessness crisis. “I take great pleasure in working with clients to learn what makes an optimal layout of a dorm room, so that there are always two paths to the bathroom and two paths to the front door so residents living there never feel trapped. I take great pleasure in being told by a resident during a walkthrough how happy they are to have a washer and dryer in their dorm so they can step away for a minute and not be worried that their favorite jeans are going to disappear. I take great interest to learn from a resident that the bang of the entrance door every 30 minutes during nightly check-ins triggers their memories of being at Rikers, and so the next time, we’re going to ask our clients to go that extra mile and put in door closers that go click rather than spring hinges that go slam.”

 

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He also brought up a memory from school that has continually inspired his work. “Never underestimate the impact of a teacher. As an undergraduate student at Penn, I used to give my landscape architect professor grief for using examples of her work from private estates. At one point, she sort of burst out at me in anger, or I guess irritation, I should say. ‘The trouble with bright students like you is that you talk this progressive talk in school, and then when you graduate, you move to Texas and build McMansions for millionaires.’ That sunk in, and 30 years ago when I came to this city, I decided to try to honor that challenge.”

Andrew’s speech was a tough act to follow, but the evening’s third honoree, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., naturally did an excellent job. “It sounds like you’ve been practicing that Academy Award speech, Andrew,” he joked.

 

“Tonight has an important theme of elevating voices, but we also need to open our hearts,” he continued. “You can’t go to church and say you’re your brother’s keeper and then go to a community board and say you don’t want shelters or affordable housing in your neighborhood. I want to still offer this city’s hope and opportunity to everyone.”

The night’s truly awe-inspiring speeches (excepting the unofficial roasts of Andrew) will continue to inform and motivate our work. Thanks again to HSU for allowing us to be a part of it all.

 

1921 Cortelyou Road Groundbreaking

IMG-0633Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) Management, Inc., opened 1921 Cortelyou Road’s groundbreaking ceremony by welcoming the Baptist Church of the Redeemer’s Reverend Sharon Williams. “This is all possible because of her and her congregation,” Speliotis explained.

When completed, the nine-story structure will include a 14,700-square-foot church and provide 76 units of supportive housing. The two uses will operate autonomously with shared service spaces only. However, the supportive housing aspect of the project appealed to the Reverend and her congregation as the type of work they are happy to partner with.

“I am honored that Reverend Williams and her congregation saw something in MHANY and selected us to help them transition a beautiful but outdated building into a beautiful and purposeful center of worship and center for community service and action,” Speliotis said. “I am honored that together the reverend and her congregation had the vision to embrace housing for a wide array of people including seniors, families, and young women who will be living on their own for the first time in their lives.”

When Rev. Williams took the microphone, she was poised to inspire the masses, albeit without a sermon. “You’re about to witness something you’ve never witnessed before, and you’ll never witness again,” she said. “A Baptist preacher is going to speak for less than 60 seconds.” She then told everyone to turn to their neighbor and repeat after her: “Neighbor … you are standing … on holy ground!”

Echoing her sentiment, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), told a story about a man who now lives in an HPD supportive housing building, having overcome 8 years of homelessness and “the worst period of his life.”

“Safe, affordable housing is the foundation of well-being of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual,” she explained.

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Credit: Vanessa Blake (an Opulent World/Summer Shower Production)

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. All the joy in the air reminded us of our commitment to the work we do together. Mega Contracting Group, the general contractor, set up a striking backdrop of excavator machinery to let everyone present know that we are ready for action!

“What started ten years ago as a vision has become evidence that gentrification is not the only thing going on in our neighborhood,” Rev. Williams said earlier in the day. “Love and determination are making a positive change here, and hopefully, more is to come.”

Thank you to MHANY, the Baptist Church of the Redeemer, HPD and the entire project team for an inspiring morning. We’re also hoping there are many more to come.

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.)

 

Bedford Green House Construction Update

Bedford Green House construction endured an unusually cold winter and a very hot summer, but the Hollister Construction team kept moving. Excavation is finished, and we are happily out of the ground! Provided by Hollister on behalf of the OxBlue Corporation, the image below shows the fifth floor concrete plank in place, with eight more floors to follow.

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IMG_20180815_095636881In the photo at right, note the large concrete box at the bottom of the pit. It isn’t a toy trunk or a sarcophagus, but rather a detention tank for stormwater, as required by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

The project is being designed to meet, if not exceed, LEED Gold standards. It includes a living green facade and a green wall in the lobby, but its crowning jewel and reason for its namesake is the rooftop greenhouse. For a full project description and more images, visit our website.

“The building contributes to the neighborhood, making it greener, healthier, and more connected,” Partner Andrew Knox told CityRealty.com.

Be sure to keep visiting our blog for more construction updates—or if you’re eager to follow the ongoing construction day to day, check out the contractor’s live cam here.

Imagining, Designing, and Building a Games Room

Architectural designer Gary McGaha recently constructed a model to study our design of the Lucile Palmaro Clubhouse Games Room for the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. The recreational space will be shared by young people ranging from ages 6 to 16 and above, so it includes a variety of programming and features. The main design move is to replace original skylights from the 1970s, which have been covered and unused for decades due to heat gain.

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The new design will reopen the space to the sky and provide an insulated sloped skylight over the entire Games Room. Studying the exposure and impact of the sun has been a central design task. The physical model in addition to a digital model assisted with sun studies and the effect of daylight.

Model closeup

The Games Room is a flexible space but shouldn’t be a free-for-all. Members of the club have programs, but also some flexibility for independent time. The Games Room is the center of the club, from which the program spaces open.

“The Club’s program spaces are varied so we wanted the Games Room to reflect that, with furniture and pool and foosball tables in designated areas,” Gary explained. “There are also lounge settings created with new homework/reading/gathering nooks.”

Rendering with tables

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Gary photographing the model on our office building’s rooftop

In addition to providing additional program space and to rejuvenate the “central heart” of the Club, a major design goal is to make all ages feel comfortable and be at leisure. “It has a playful aspect and feel overall,” Gary said. To that effect, color is used in the nooks to differentiate and draw attention to different areas, as can be seen in the model.

“Seeing things in three dimensions makes it easier for people to engage with the space and envision themselves in it,” Gary added. “It lets you see how all the elements work together; it lets you see the light and shadows. Your imagination goes to work.” We look forward to sharing it with the kids at the Club!

Construction documents are in progress, and construction is planned to begin next year. For a full project description and more images, be sure to visit our website.

Breaking Ground at 3500 Park Avenue

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Attendees included Mega Contracting Group, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Boston Financial Investment Management, and JPMorgan Chase.

July 12 marked the groundbreaking ceremony for 3500 Park Avenue in the Bronx.

“New affordable housing units are coming to our borough, giving many a new lease on life—literally,” said News 12 The Bronx Anchor Dave Roush, in the video at the end of the post.

When completed (in about two years), the 7-story building will offer 69 supportive housing units for formerly homeless veterans with disabilities, adults with mental illness, and seniors. An additional 46 affordable housing units are open to those earning 60% of the area median income, to be selected through a lottery system.

“Claremont Village in the Bronx is a little removed in regards to proximity to public transit, so The Bridge is super excited to incorporate a fresh, helpful, positive building in the neighborhood,” said Sunčića Jašarovič, one of our architectural designers on the project. “The client’s compassion for the community is always growing.”

Susan Wiviott, CEO of The Bridge, welcomed the gathering of developers, funding groups, architects, and media, stressing how desperately in need of affordable housing the city is. “It’s great to have everyone come together in support of our mission at an event like this,” she said. “It’s important to work with people you can trust.”

As the golden ceremonial shovels stood nearby, Nicole Ferreira, senior vice-president of multi-family finance with NYC Homes and Community Renewal, acknowledged that these projects take a lot of work to get off the ground and spoke about what the event and project represented.

“It’s important to us that no New Yorker is left behind,” said Ferreira. “This project is all about a celebration of a fresh start and a new hope. It will strengthen the Bronx community and economy.”

Greg Maher, executive director of the Leviticus Fund, echoed her remarks. “This is the largest acquisition loan in our history, and it’s in support of the largest project in The Bridge’s history,” he said. “This sends a message that vulnerable groups will not go overlooked in this city.”

For more information, see coverage from The Bronx Times and New York Nonprofit Media, and check out the local news report below. “That corner has been a little eyesore, so now it’ll bring some vitality back to the community and just give it more life,” Etta Ritter, a lifelong Bronx resident, told News 12.

We’re honored to be a part of the team and to serve this mission—and look forward to sharing construction updates!

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News 12: “Affordable housing project gets underway in the Bronx”

Mayor de Blasio Visits 1561 Walton Avenue

de BlasioToday, at Settlement Housing Fund‘s 1561 Walton Avenue, the Mayor announced that 2017 marked the highest number of affordable housing units produced in the City’s history.

His administration financed 32,116 affordable homes last year, breaking the all-time record previously set by former Mayor Ed Koch in 1989 of 25,243 units, according to the press release. The City also broke the record for the most new construction with 9,140 affordable homes. Nearly 60 percent of all homes financed will serve New Yorkers making less than $47,000 for a family of three.

We’re honored to serve this mission. Below are the official photos of our 1561 Walton Avenue project, which provided 60 affordable units.

A video of today’s event appears at the end of the post, in which Mayor de Blasio hands a resident the keys to her new home to celebrate the milestone.

 

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.

NYLON #13: Homelessness in New York and London

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA

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On May 31, 2018, I attended the Urban Design Forum’s 13th session of NYLON at the Center for Architecture. The series brings together experts from New York and London to discuss shared issues facing our cities and to have an open exchange of ideas and conversation. Architects were joined by city agency officials, non-profit organizations, and other experts in conversations ranging from safer streets to affordable housing and homelessness.

It was fun to have our colleagues from “across the pond” share their experiences, struggles, and successes via Skype. The numbers vary, and programs have different names, but the bottom line is that affordability is dwindling in both cities, which leads to structural increases in homelessness. Structural causes for homelessness are those not related to behavior and include landlord policies and loss of stable housing. Joslyn Carter, administrator of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), spoke about how the number of children and families in temporary housing has been rising. Rents have increased exponentially higher than incomes have, and working families cannot keep up.

So what is being done? Alice Brownfield, director of Peter Barber Architects in the U.K., shared several remarkable projects that included shelters and supportive housing. Their work is impressive and speaks to a scale of “home” that many urban dwellers don’t experience. It’s interesting to me that there was such low density in some of the projects, whereas much of our work in NYC is based on high-density city conditions and providing up to 200 beds (max) in a facility. The “cottage” feel of their Holmes Road Studios is very appealing. I also appreciate their embrace of brick masonry as a material.

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Credit: Peter Barber Architects (found via http://www.peterbarberarchitects.com/holmes-road-studios)

Common threads in the work were dignity of space, welcoming and bright entrances, and common areas that encourage socialization. Basic needs like security and high-quality programming were also core contributors to success.

Jonathan Marvel, of Marvel Architects, spoke about his firm’s work in evaluating the Belleview Men’s Shelter, which houses nearly 800 single men. From their studies, clients and program providers indicated that security, dignity, services, and community are  the top of values and issues related to shelters. Jennifer Travassos, head of prevention and commissioning for Westminster Council, referred to coming home and relaxing in your jammies as a practice not available to the homeless. I found that to be a great, humanizing reference that those with homes take for granted as a contributor to mental health and life in general.

We were especially interested in this discussion since our Landing Road (aka Reaching New Heights Residence) project for BRC enjoyed its ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month. In an innovative funding model, non-profit shelter provider BRC developed a 200-bed shelter on the lower levels of the building which funds 135 units of affordable housing on the upper levels. The project marks the first new construction of a NYC shelter in 25 years and serves as a model for financing much-needed permanent housing.

“Our HomeStretch Housing pilot—Landing Road—provides beautiful, high-quality affordable housing  to the low-income individuals BRC assists in our shelters,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, president and CEO of BRC. “Through BRC’s The Way Home Fund, we plan to kickstart the development of a pipeline of projects that will replicate the success of Landing Road and ultimately create thousands of units of low-income housing, help the city decrease the size of the shelter system, and close down decaying and unsafe facilities.”

To connect back to what’s being done to improve NYC shelters, the Urban Design Forum sent their Forefront Fellows to Landing Road the morning following the ribbon-cutting as part of DHS’s Conscious Shelter Design initiative. The fellows were touring 15 different sites (including Project Renewal’s Ana’s Place) to develop guidelines for shelter providers that focus on maintenance, accessibility, landscape, and space utilization, among others. The architects, building owners, and program directors provided a tour and answered the fellows’ questions. It was interesting to speak of the design and programming of the Reaching New Heights Residence in the context of the previous morning’s seminar and comparisons to challenges and solutions in London. Issues related to entry, security, wayfinding, maintenance, and connection to nature all resonated. We were pleased to assist in the research and look forward to contributing further. The goal of DHS to become obsolete is a lofty one, and until it becomes a reality, we appreciate their efforts in making shelters places of welcoming and security.

Exemplifying “Design for Healthy Living”

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The view from the event location

Last week, four of our team members attended Design for Healthy Living, hosted by the Center for Active Design (CfAD) in collaboration with the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC). In the spirit of the event, we walked the few blocks to 31 Chambers Street where it was held.

The interactive session included lectures, breakouts, and feedback— all focused on the intersection of design and health. Our team attended because we know architects are in a unique position to affect positive health outcomes in several ways, and because ESKW/A has been following the CfAD since FitCity 1 in 2006 (more on that later).

The Center for Active Design’s goals are to support the creation of environments that improve productivity, community engagement, and civic trust—while reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. They put a strong emphasis on providing these types of spaces and amenities to some of the population’s most vulnerable groups, including at-risk youth, older adults, and those affected by homelessness and mental health issues, among others. This hit home for us.

Much of ESKW/A’s work—from affordable and supporting housing to community centers and schools—puts CfAD’s philosophies into action. In fact, our New Settlement Community Campus project was featured in one of the presentation’s slides (more on that later, too). We found the event valuable not only because it dealt with issues central to our core mission, but also because it provided the opportunity for discussion as opposed to feeling somewhat one-sided.

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Some of the most compelling takeaways indeed came from attendees who participated in the sharing session. One designer remarked that he saw a lot of active design strategies in the nicer neighborhoods of Manhattan but stressed the need for “equity across boroughs.” Another remarked that active design is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of accessible design. Perhaps the most captivating story came from a man who does work in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where conflict between public housing developments have had a grave impact on the neighborhood. To counter this, his organization worked to beautify the public space between the two and create a place each development is connected to through murals. He stressed that good design principles are most needed in communities that have been historically disenfranchised, marginalized, and overlooked.

“The Brownsville project resonated. As design professionals, we have an obligation to the community. As our work may be pinpointed to one building, we should be aware of the surroundings of a project and respond with compassion,” Suncica Jasarovic, one of our architectural designers, said after the event. “Our job as architects is to design for the health and well-being of humanity.”

Our very own Kimberly Murphy attended the first FitCity in 2006 and has been supporting the agenda ever since. She even spoke at the 10th annual event in 2016. Here are some slides from her presentation about New Settlement Community Campus, a project that exemplifies active design:

These things continue to matter to her and to us today. Below you’ll see she’s still “rocking” and reading to children at the New Settlement Community Campus. The project—a collaboration among the Settlement Housing Fund, NYC Department of Education, NYC School Construction Authority, and ESKW/A and Dattner Architects—was also featured in last week’s presentation. CfAD applauded the use of color to support wayfinding and locate programming in a building with many functions: a public school, D75 school, and intermediate/high school, in addition to a community center.

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“Healthy design and evidence-based research are especially relevant to our work, considering that our clients serve a range of at-risk New Yorkers: seniors, homeless or formerly homeless, children, mentally ill, people living at or below the poverty line,” explained Kimberly. “Our work has always taken a humanistic approach, and to hear that designers have a responsibility as health professionals is very interesting. It boosts the importance of design strategies that we consider best practices and pushes our strategies to new levels.”

We thank the CfAD and NYC DDC for their continued work in this arena, and for a great afternoon (and for the cheese)! To learn more about other projects of ours that address community concerns, click the links below: