Exemplifying “Design for Healthy Living”

other statue

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.

group discussion

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.

Kimberly NSCC Slide

“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:

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Public Housing & Corduroy Pants

By Frank Ball

If you ask anybody from the undergraduate program at the Pratt School of Architecture who Donald Cromley is, they will have a story for you. I started asking this question to fellow Pratt alumni here at ESKW/A, and their stories spanned the length of his career. He was once the right-hand man to modernist architect Marcel Breuer. At Pratt, Cromley was the department chair, building technology coordinator, and still works as a professor in both history and design. Most are surprised to learn not only that he is still teaching, but that even now in his late seventies, he still leads a walking tour through New Haven. Recently I went on this tour and was moved by what I saw.

On a Saturday morning in March, Donald Cromley’s students gathered at Grand Central. Even though I had graduated, I reached out ahead of time and asked to tag along. We took a New Haven-bound Metro North train to the end of the line and departed at Union Station.

Image by Frank Ball

We stood outside the station and looked at a stocky concrete apartment complex across the street. It was called the Church Street South Housing Project, completed by the late architect Charles Moore in 1969. Moore had been dean of Yale’s Department of Architecture (later the Yale School of Architecture) from 1965-1970, and would be remembered as a pioneer of post-modernism.

At the time when Moore designed Church Street South, his work was experimental. The façade obeyed a classical system, but with new materials. What would later be known as post-modernism essentially borrowed iconography from traditional architecture, mixed it together with modernism, and then reassembled everything into something new. The result was refreshing, and in a conceptual way, elevated Church Street South above a level of just basic housing.

Photo credits clockwise from left (collage by Frank Ball): clipgoo.com | Elliot Brown on Flickr, via the National Trust for Historic Preservation at savingplaces.org | The Museum of the City of New York at collections.mcny.org| Larry Speck at larryspeck.com

“Modernists liked this, you see?” Cromley pointed to the façade and tugged at the leg of his corduroy pants. Like his modernist contemporaries, Cromley also wore a bowtie (because a regular necktie could fall on his drawings and smudge.) Anyway, his point was that Moore used a ribbed block. To be more specific, ribbed block was applied throughout the exterior, except where classical details belonged. The top of the façade is smooth to express a cornice, corners are crisp with reversed quoins, and windows are cleanly trimmed. Everything else is rough and textural ––like corduroy pants.

Image found at newhavenurbanism.org

Once upon a time, the complex was painted with bright super graphics; there were architectural follies and sculptural elements, all early characteristics of Moore’s work. Today, the Church Street Housing complex is scheduled to be razed. We happened to visit on a day when the demolition crews weren’t working, and some buildings waited patiently to be torn down.

Paul Rudolph’s Temple Street Parking Garage

Image by Frank Ball

We continued on our tour. New Haven has an abnormally high number of parking garages. One such garage is Paul Rudolph’s Temple Street Parking Garage.

Image by Frank Ball

“Pay attention to the fenestration.”

We gathered around an elevator vestibule in the parking structure. Rudolph’s office designed the glass wall with simple off-the-shelf parts. The system doesn’t hold up to modern energy codes and has been replaced in other parts of the garage. But because the space inside the vestibule is actually unconditioned, it was allowed to stay. Cromley said these window mullions were originally used in other Paul Rudolph projects, including his namesake: Rudolph Hall.

Image by Frank Ball

One corollary of the modern movement was the use of as few materials as possible. As we walked out of the garage and looked back, the concrete streetlights on the upper deck were visible. Yes, concrete streetlights.

Paul Rudolph

Image by Ezra Stoller

Iconoclast Paul Rudolph, refusing to wear his bowtie.

“Thank God he didn’t try concrete mullions!”

So why were there so many modernist architects working in New Haven anyway? Cromley told that it was an example of the town versus the gown. In the 1950s the president of Yale, Alfred Griswold, decreed that all significant construction on campus would be avant-garde, freeing Yale from the collegiate-gothic tradition. The amount of courage that it took for an Ivy League president to suggest this, let alone to convince a board of trustees to go along with it, is remarkable. Not to be out done, Mayor of New Haven Richard Lee said the same of municipal construction. Because so many modernist architects were already working on projects at Yale or were in the academic circle, they enjoyed easy access to New Haven projects. As Cromley put it, Griswold simply gave his list of approved architects to Lee.

There are examples of this quirky reciprocity throughout the City of New Haven:

Architect

Yale

New Haven

Paul Rudolph Rudolph Hall, 1961-1963 Temple Street Garage, 1961
Marcel Breuer Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center, 1968-1970 Armstrong Rubber Co, 1968
SOM Beinecke Library (Gordon Bunshaft), 1961-1963 Conte School, 1962
Charles Moore Dean of Yale’s Department of Architecture, 1965-1970 Church Street South, 1969

Please make no mistake, there are plenty of examples of architects working in New Haven before working at Yale, and by no means did an architect have to build in either locale to be considered successful. It also didn’t hurt that New Haven had been designated a “Model City” and benefitted from federal funding for urban renewal.

Yet I found other examples of the relationship between buildings at Yale and New Haven that are more complex. For example, the ribbed block on Charles Moore’s Church Street South Housing Project was invented by Paul Rudolph’s office. The concept had essentially been prototyped on Rudolph Hall. This was also a nice homage on Moore’s part, as he became dean immediately after Paul Rudolph but ran the department very differently.

Image by Gunnar Klack

I couldn’t help but reflect on another part of my education while thinking about Donald Cromley’s tour. At about the time when I graduated, Reinier de Graaf, an architect and partner at the firm OMA, published the ominously titled article, “Architecture is now a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission.” The title pretty much sums up the point I’m trying to make, but what happened?

Moore, whom I mentioned earlier, was hardly the first famous modern architect to take on housing for the social good. To name a few, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, and Louis Kahn all stamped their names to various forms of housing for those who could not otherwise afford it. In a way, low-income housing was a perfect corollary to the adage that “less is more,” because these architects had to work with less.

Today it’s hard to escape the feeling that architects primarily serve a privileged class (and that’s part of why I’m so proud to work where I do), but I want to see architecture at large return to its humanitarian past.


Frank Ball is a graduate of the Pratt School of Architecture and currently an architectural designer at ESKW/A. Among other things, he is currently working on the new construction of 76 units of supportive and affordable housing at 1921 Cortelyou Road.

It’s National Poetry Month and Throwback Thursday!

WhitneyAtHerDeskCirca2009

Whitney at her desk, 2009

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets designated April National Poetry Month to increase awareness and appreciation of the art form. In keeping with that spirit—and in honor of #throwbackthursday—we’re sharing the poetic, aesthetic stylings of our former office manager Whitney Merritt. She dedicated a poem to the office on her 25th anniversary and even abridged it for her retirement 16 years later. It appears below.

Whitney was the glue in this office for many years. She was truly an ESKW original, having joined the team at age 20 in 1965. She retired in 2011 after 40 years keeping this place together. She loved her family and treated each of us like one of her own. Whitney passed away in August 2013 but will always be a part of our legacy.

 

 

 

TO THE OFFICE 

(abridgements italicized)

ESKW/A Office Photo 2008

25 years! Has it been that long?

Remember how I drove you crazy with the old Sinatra song?

After 41 years, most of you have never heard that old Sinatra song (“Strangers in the Night”).

 

In the beginning the copier was in the closet, sitting on a shelf,

And all the typos errors had to be erased—in triplicate—by myself.

Specifications were written with the usual zealous haste,

Then in would come the corrections—I was the queen of cut and paste.

Now the computer prints out the specs and the copier does the collating,

The telephone is much improved, and the fax keeps no man waiting.

25 years! Has it been that long?

After 41 years—and I say this with love:

There is an app for all of the above.

Cut and paste is on the menu while the fax is considered old school,

Because email, Twitter, and Facebook, now the airwaves rule.

 

The office staff used the go fishing, well off to Montauk I sped,

But I didn’t have any sea legs, so my day was spent in the head.

There are some things though in which I am quite steady,

The first that comes to mind— “Anything for Ever Ready” …

I’ve tried to keep up with the times, but often I could scream,

Because I find it disconcerting talking to machines.

Our clients use us repeatedly, that’s what our bid will say,

And I like to think I’ve played a part in making it that way.

25 years! Has it been that long?

After 41 years, I’ve stayed on land and added FedEx as my evening call,

Though sometimes I think nobody hears me at all.

Electronic conversations are still not my best zone,

But some of our clients are glad to hear I’m still manning the phone.

 

We’ve sat around this table, a hundred times or more,

When things were on the up and up, or the wolf was at the door.

We’ve shared our lives in many ways—our hopes, our joys, our sorrows,

So now I’ll just propose a toast to many more tomorrows.

After 41 years these sentiments still ring true,

And even though I’ll miss you all, I’m looking forward to something new.

I’m leaving you my contact info; I’m sure email will be your choice,

But truth be told, I would rather hear your voice.

ESKWA Whitney Randy Andrew 2012

Whitney with Randy and Andrew

Her heartfelt words meant the world to those who worked with her. Though perhaps less poetic, here are some of our own about her:

  • “I was amazed that someone who had been working at the same company for so many years would take such care to do everything perfectly. Besides being someone we could all rely on, she was a great entertainer. Whoever sat at the desk next to her could count on some fun. Once she told us that on her day off she would spend time at Orchard Beach in the Bronx and do some people-watching. She had us in stitches telling stories of people she had seen and doing some imitations.” (Lucille, bookkeeper)
  • “When I was hired as the new office manager, it did not take me long to realize that Whitney was a treasure and that I would have very big shoes to fill. She knew everything about the company, and she played an integral part in making it the successful firm it is today. Whitney had a love of life and even though she was strongly opposed to “modern machinery” her curiosity and interest in everything around her made her a wonderful person to spend time with. As she sang and laughed her way through her day at ESKW/A, she imparted knowledge and wisdom that helped me transition into my new role.” (Lauretta, office manager)
  • “With her high spirit and strength, Whitney had a way of making me feel closer to home although I was thousands of miles away from my family. I loved her old-fashioned way of doing everything, from typing on her electronic type writer placed in front of her computer, ordering items from JCP catalog, and calling internet the intraweb. She always had a needle and thread to patch something and anti-static spray for skirts! She was truly a special lady.” (Tatjana, former project manager)
  • “I feel like she will always be nearby.” (Daughtry, senior architect)
ESKWA Halloween Whitney

Whitney at Halloween

It’s Swimming Season at Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse

Though the frigid and blustery winter persists outside, inside the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club’s Murphy Clubhouse pool, the atmosphere is warm and bright.

This week, ESKW/A met up with photographer David Sundberg of Esto Photography for a photoshoot of the recently completed Thomas S. Murphy pool. The Boys & Girls Club graciously allowed us to sit in on an afternoon swim program so that we could capture the kids in action.

We’re immensely proud of the renovation (one discerning nine-year old swimmer remembered swimming in the pool pre-renovation and graded the work as an A+++), and we can’t wait to share the official photos. For now, take a look at some quick pics we took at the photoshoot.

 

 

 

It’s Giving Season!

One of our seasonal traditions here at ESKW/A is the annual holiday gift donation drive. Headed up by illustrious office manager Lauretta daCruz, we collected donations from the office, shopped for gifts, wrapped ’em up, and hand delivered to students at Explore Charter School in Brooklyn. A school social worker and high school placement coordinator identified families who could use some additional cheer this holiday season. The guardians were contacted, and the kids provide a wish list. Each child received special gifts selected just for them off of their list.

We had a lovely haul this year, and we’re grateful to everyone who participated. Happy Holidays to all!

 

Schools & Community; a Presentation at the AIA

Kimberly Murphy at AIA

The presenters

On December 10th, the AIANY Architecture for Education Committee sponsored an event moderated by Mark Thaler, Educational Practice Leader of Gensler.  The evening showcased two school projects in the NYC area that represent successful symbioses with their communities, “Community Schools: Process, Program, and Promise.”

ESKW/A was proud to take part in the presentation: our own Kimberly Murphy, along with Dattner Architects‘ Jeffrey Dugan and New Settlement Apartments‘ Jack Doyle, discussed the collaborative creative process and subsequent success of the New Settlement Community Campus.

Vincent Lee, Associate Partner of Rogers Partners, presented The Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, for which he collaborated closely with Annette C. Anderson, Assistant Dean for Community Schools at Johns Hopkins University.  Their inspiring project, a school in Baltimore that faced the unique design challenge of building within a historic area that was rapidly being rebuilt, made for an interesting comparison with NSCC.  Rogers Partners and the community’s successful solutions for the unusual school program and challenging site provided us with much food for thought.

Quote Jeff Dugan

The event delivered a rich discussion on a topic we value highly; the importance of architect + community collaboration.

Jeffrey Dugan and Kimberly Murphy answered questions about the unusual creative process, in which the teams swapped schemes midway through the design scheme phase:

Jeff:
“We think the building came out unlike one that we would have designed alone, so in some sense when you think about community, collaboration really is part of a community action.”

Kimberly:
“I can be honest with you, as an architect I was nervous to do that — give it away, and let someone else break it? That was really difficult. But it made us realize that (the design) was a group process, and it definitely came out better in the end than it would have been if just one person had worked on it. I think it was a real growth moment.”

Jack Doyle quoteThough located in areas of their respective cities that can be subject to vandalism, both projects have remained unmarred.  Vincent and Jack attributed that fact to an appreciation for the buildings and their role in the community.

Jack:

“I think if you were to go around the neighborhood by the school you’d see a lot of graffiti, but in the 2.5 years the building has been built, there has been no graffiti. We also have a lot of glass, and one thing that’s not uncommon nowadays in NYC is to use etching acid to graffiti glass … and there have been no incidents of that. I think that people in the community recognize that this building acknowledges and respects their children for what they are and what they should have. It’s a gift, it’s what every child should have.”

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Pool Party: Renovating the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club

ESKWA Madison Pool 1

Not long ago, the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club reached out for a redesign of their indoor community pool at the Thomas S. Murphy Clubhouse, in Flatbush, Brooklyn.  The existing natatorium is original to the 1920’s building and is in need of an update – including re-shaping and re-finishing the pool, renovation of the girls’ locker rooms, and providing a lobby for spectators.

ESKW/A render and plan

ESKW/A render and plan

Inspired by both the historic nature of the building and the work of the Club, we aimed to blend traditional and modern design influences, and most of all to showcase the heart of the Club – the kids themselves.  Our design includes a monochromatic glass tile mosaic commencing in the Pool Lobby and extending 90’ along the length of the pool room which would depict underwater swimming children. To that end, the Club along with Owner’s Representative LOM Properties organized a photoshoot with New York photographer Hatim, using 2 swim teams of about 30 children altogether. The images of the children will be used in the mosaic truly capturing the motion of the club kids for posterity in the pool room.

Annie Kountz, Project Architect, describes the experience:

The Boys & Girls Club is such an inspiring place. It provides both a haven and a fun place for kids. The skills and confidence that they gain by learning to swim or play basketball enhances their lives, and sets up good healthy life skills for the future, too.

I think what is so special about Madison is that it believes in the inherent goodness in everyone. It believes that ALL kids, no matter what their race, religion, or creed, deserve the opportunities to reach their full potential. The Club provides classes in art, fitness, recreation, health, leadership, parenting, and life skills.  Madison gives thousands of kids a place to go after school. It provides a safe place to learn and grow.  It gives positive adult role models, and most of all I think it gives hope and opportunity.

The project has been meaningful to me personally because I was a Boys & Girls Club kid.  I loved it! I played in Boys & Girls Clubs basketball leagues for years. It wasn’t just an alternative to daycare to keep me busy while my dad worked multiple jobs—it taught me about perseverance and hard work and it gave me lifelong friends.

The Boys & Girls Club in general is such an amazing organization, but what I think makes the pool renovation particularly special is the giant mosaic. The kids were so, so excited about it!  It must mean so much to them that THEY are on the WALL! The kiddos will be edified on a GIANT 10’x100’ wall.  We went through loads of iterations for the tile and wall designs.  For a while we considered a giant Olympic swimmer, but doing a big mosaic of the members themselves is in perfect keeping with the mission of the Club. It tells the kids that they are special and heroic.  They all felt like super heroes! And that was the energy and level of excitement at the photoshoot. The kids had a great time and the photos turned out great.          

Below, we invite you to enjoy the results of what turned out to be a very energetic, fun, and successful day. And please stay tuned to watch these images be transformed into the final mosaic design and then ultimately get built at the Club early next year.