High School Students Look Behind the Curtain at Cortelyou Road

image00033In lighter news, back in February before remote learning became the new normal, ESKW/Architects Senior Project Manager Ruth Dresdner took a group of her Bard High School Early College Manhattan students to our 1921 Cortelyou Road project as part of her seminar “Reading the Built Environment,” which teaches students to develop a critical approach for evaluating buildings and infrastructure. The partly sunny, not-too-cool day made for a fun experience of considering the construction industry along with its social value and environmental impact.

“I wanted the students to understand that building a building is very complicated, and many people work on it,” Ruth said. “And they did.”

The project is an interesting mixed use of Housing and Assembly. The land was owned by the Baptist Church of the Redeemer, which then partnered with non-profit housing developer MHANY Management Inc. to re-develop the property to more fully serve the community and the congregation. This blend of development and innovation is not unique to New York City, but we certainly have a broad collection of development types, so for high school students to get an up-close look at one such project is definitely “learning outside of the classroom,” which we fully endorse. 

The tour began on the ground floor where students first saw the church portion of the project, including the entrance and open sanctuary space. From there, the group took the construction lift to the top floor of the residential portion, working their way down to see how the building comes together. Students saw everything from plumbing and insulation to flooring and finishes in the span of an hour.

“I have always had this rosy idea that constructing a building was a somewhat easy job,” wrote one student in their written report. “That image has drastically changed.”

“The absolute enormity of the task of balancing all these factors while still making the building economical is absurd,” wrote another, before describing an anecdote that involved a plumber having to move piping 4 inches to the right while on-site, so that it didn’t interfere with insulation being installed. “This to me signified the millions of assignments that architects are tasked with, and how simple it is to make one little mistake that could hypothetically ruin the building.” We assured him that with a great team like ours, it’s pretty rare that a building gets ruined. 

After students encountered the tangible materials and structures of the building process, they began thinking in more abstract social and environmental terms. On the 6th floor, the building’s continuous insulation and exterior wall system especially captured their interest. By the ground floor, they asked about who would actually be living in these units. One student wrote:

I was impressed that these small studios are offered to homeless women. One of the things that I noticed in each room is that they all had at least one large window. Having this large window highlights how much light is valued in this design. I was also thinking about how these big windows can personally affect its tenants. Knowing that some of its tenants are homeless women and having a non-profit apartment building means bringing in the less fortunate, I think having these huge windows allows them to feel like they are seen and acknowledged by the “outside.” These people might have been stuck in the dark due to several reasons, and giving them the chance to see more of the outside at night from the safety of their room is such a beautiful idea.

The tour concluded with each student receiving a swag bag from the project’s general contractor. The students were all smiles wearing Mega Contracting Group-branded hats, stuffing water bottles and other items into their bags. But their excitement belied the strenuous coursework each of them takes on.

Ruth explained that the school is very selective, only accepting about 1 in 15 applicants, and that by the time each student graduates, the accelerated curriculum has prepared them to pass the regents exam while also earning many an Associate’s Degree (or about two years of college credit). She got involved there because her son was one of the first to attend and graduate, and Ruth got to know the principal as a kind of architectural consultant advising on maintaining the school’s aging facility.

“At some point I pitched a class about these things, and they had me write and develop a syllabus,” she said. “Which took about two years!” And the level of thought Ruth put into the syllabus is rubbing off on her students, if this last excerpt is any indication:

As the tour continues, I have accepted the fact that the only Vitruvian principles for a perfect building that are valued in this project are Firmitas (Durability) and Utilitas (Convenience). This idea brings me back to our discussion in class about whether apartment buildings are beautiful. We argued that most buildings exist without Venustas (Beauty), and usually focus on the utility of stacking people on top of each other. However, as we continued to walk I remembered that Vitruvius defined Beauty as “appearance of the work is pleasing and in good taste.” I kept remembering the fact that homeless/unfortunate people will live here, and I smiled. Then, I turned to the large window again and had an even bigger smile on my face. I realized that the appearance of the work is more than pleasing because of who this hard work is for. I believe that this building is beautiful. Therefore, since it accomplished all the Vitruvian values such as Firmitas, Utilitas, and Venustas, I believe that this a perfect building.

We are honored and tend to agree with this student, but are mostly thrilled that a new generation of New Yorkers are thinking so deeply about their built environment. We’re also glad that the students had a chance to see the construction site before remote learning and social distancing became the norm. We wish them all well with the remainder of their school year and hope that their peek behind the “construction curtain” was a highlight of the semester.

ESKW/A and 1070 Myrtle Avenue at the SARA National Design Awards

1070 Myrtle Avenue recently received a Society of American Registered Architects (SARA) National Design Award of Honor at the organization’s annual conference in Chicago. ESKW/Architect’s Project manager Fialka Semenuik, AIA, Associate, was in attendance to accept!

SARA presented 80 architectural design awards to professionals and students from across the U.S. The event entailed a cocktail reception and 90-minute presentation during which 47 Honor, 22 Merit, and 11 Excellence designations were awarded. Representatives from each winning project were then welcomed onstage to give remarks.

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Credit: Michael Courier Photography

Fialka took the stage to accept on behalf of ESKW/A and the entire project team. She was presented the award certificate by SARA Committee Chair and President Elect Dennis Dong, AIA, FARA, CSI; Jury Moderator David Stofcik, AIA, ARA, ULI, NCARB, Executive Architect of Master Planning and Urban Design Studio at Walt Disney Imagineering; and Juror Suzanne Musho, AIA, ARA, NCARB, Vice President of Zubatkin Owner Representation. This year’s other distinguished jurors included Brian Lee, FAIA, ARA, LEED AP BD+C, Partner at SOM Chicago; Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, ARA, Design Principal of Ross Barney Architects, Inc.; Juan Gabriel Moreno, AIA, ARA, President of Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects (JGMA); and Mark Nagis, AIA, ARA, LEED AP, Director at SOM Chicago.

“It was a night to celebrate with architects and students from across the country—one of those special occasions to be recognized by our peers,” Fialka said. “For that I am indebted to the rest of the project team at ESKW/A (Annie Kountz and Andrew Knox, Partner-in-Charge); grateful to our client, the Institute for Community Living, for allowing us to play a part in their mission; and grateful to Michael Borruto General Contractor, especially Mike Berg for taking such care in the execution of the building.”

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Credit: Michael Courier Photography

1070 Myrtle Avenue provides 40 studio and two-bedroom apartments in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, to serve clients whose ability to live independently assists in their mental health goals, including young adults transferring out of the foster care system. The economic construction system of pre-cast concrete plank and load-bearing CMU is enhanced by creative detailing of the concrete brick units at corners and the cornice. The street façade is broken into smaller massing and articulated through two concrete brick colors.

“The Jury noted that the spaces feel fresh and hipster-ish … and that interior corridor spaces are resolved quite nicely with a lot of moves made in a cost-effective way,” the award presenters said.

While in Chicago, Fialka found some time to take in the city’s architecture and attended several of the conference’s sessions. Highlights included tours of WJE’s Janney Technical Center (state-of-the-art construction materials testing & research facility) and three recently completed Chicago Public Library branches designed by SOM Chicago.

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Credit: David Sundberg / Esto

In related good news, we recently learned that 1070 Myrtle Avenue has also won an AIA New York State Design Award. Stay tuned for a recap of our experience at their awards luncheon in White Plains early next month!

1921 Cortelyou Road and Baptist Church of the Redeemer in the NYT

Today, 1921 Cortelyou Road and Baptist Church of the Redeemer was mentioned in The New York Times in a story about the development of faith-based sites.

In increasingly challenging times for houses of worship, it’s important that the development market reacts sensitively and respectfully. We are proud that our Cortelyou Road / Baptist Church of the Redeemer project is doing just this. The church is expressed physically, distinctly, and honorably, while the housing above provides for the city’s underserved population. We are thankful that this development is welcomed in Flatbush.

To learn more about this project’s intricate history and how it came to life, see our post from March 2019.

PS32K Construction Update

We just returned from our bi-weekly site visit to PS32K in Brooklyn. The school’s renovation and addition is coming along nicely!

Below, the construction team takes advantage of the cantilever for some protection from the sun on this hot day.

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Here, a storefront is installed at the new cafeteria, which will have sweeping views of the playground on three sides.

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Although the building is a very active construction site, the concept of wayfinding through portals of color is already taking shape: yellow to the main stair on the right, coral to the cafeteria straight ahead, and teal to the library on the left.

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The main stair is accented with yellow thresholds on each floor making circulation through the school very clear and bright!

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Classroom corridors terminate in full wall of glass block and clear glazing washing each corridor in daylight.

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Stay tuned for more progress!

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.

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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Office Field Trip to Sharks!

Last month our office toured the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit at the New York Aquarium. Having served as Associate Architect and Architect of Record on this dynamic and highly technical project, we were very excited and proud to show-and-tell the exhibit with the entire office. See our photos below, and head to Coney Island while the weather is still nice and check it out for yourself.

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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.

Office Book Club: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Over drinks and ‘d’oeuvres at a TriBeCa bistro, the ESKW/A Office Book Club dove into early-20th century Williamsburg through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. One of our most tenured team members chose it because—for shame—only one of us had actually read it in school, although it was published in 1943. It turns out our coming-of-age would have to come a little later!

Each of us connected with a different aspect of the story. No spoilers here, but themes of hard-working immigrants, authoritarian figureheads, and reversals of fortune resonated most with us.

“It was lovely,” said Lauretta daCruz, our office manager. “Sometimes we have a terrific book but not a great conversation, or a book no one really liked it and a really good discussion. But [that] night was an awesome chat and we all really loved the book. That was nice.”

Betty Smith crafted such an engaging protagonist that many of us felt like Francie’s memories and experiences were our own—as she went to school, found a job, fell in love, and became herself.

“I felt like I knew her!” quipped Carlos Salinas Weber, one of our architects.

If you need a page-turner for a commute or want to get lost in your recliner at home, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has our recommendation. There are so many hilarious, heartbreaking, tenacious, and trying little moments and connections throughout. And at a solid but smooth 493 pages, each stretch feels like an accomplishment. Reading it was a challenging yet rewarding experience.

Last night’s meetup marked the seventh completed book since the group’s inception in February 2017—a remarkable achievement considering the team’s regular readings and responsibilities related to work and life in general. The growing list includes The Devil and the White City, Telex from Cuba, The Sellout, Ghost Boy, The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos, and Pedro Paramo.

Next up is the recently departed Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Other authors we’re eyeing include Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, and Tom Wolfe. Give us your recommendations in the comments!