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.

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.

IMG_7796

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

IMG_7798

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.

IMG_7803

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

IMG_7828

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

IMG_7832

Stay tuned for more progress!

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!

PS11 Arch Day Fall 18_13

#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!

Office Book Club: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

IMG_5777

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!

Interest, Involvement, and Inclusion at Career Day

IMG_0365

Madiba Prep’s welcoming blew us away! We toasted sparkling cider to the students’ success.

Madiba Prep Middle School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, rolled out the red carpet for ESKW/A and many other professionals on Career Day, May 16. We got breakfast, lunch, certificates, gift bags, and student performances. We even earned prime real estate on the career fair floor right by the gymnasium door.

“I was overwhelmed by our welcome,” said Amanda Sengstacken, one of our architectural designers. “The school was so gracious and appreciative. I really found it very moving, because as flattering as all the attention they gave us was, their enthusiasm underlined how important it is to the school to present their students with a wide variety of options for their future.”

We only hope that our efforts made the students feel just as welcome to the world of architecture. While the industry is improving, architecture has long faced a diversity problem. People of color, women, and other groups outside the status quo are still underrepresented in the field, and it’s up to us the change that. The AIA formed a Diversity Council in 2011 and ratified Resolution 15:1, “Equity in Architecture,” at its 2015 convention, and locally, groups like the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NYCOBA|NOMA) and AIANY’s Women in Architecture (WIA) are continually working toward change.

So just as the school was grateful to have ESKW/A and other occupations share their work, goals, and career paths, we were grateful to be there to inspire the next generation of architects and to make this industry more inclusive. Since our inception in the 60s, that’s been part of our work. Our co-founder Judith Edelman was a pioneer in the field both as a woman and a designer of affordable housing. It would be great to have some of the kids consider architecture as a career, but even if we just piqued their interest in the built environment around them, we’ve done our job.

Principal Anne Marie Malcolm began the day by saying that when she came here from the islands, she thought she only had three paths to success: doctor, lawyer, or educator. And while she loves her job, she’s curious if she would have taken a different path had she known what was available to her. After today, the kids at Madiba Prep should know there are several paths they can take: architect, urban planner, firefighter, musician, fashion designer, and occupational or physical therapist, among others.

“I want the students to know that there is a plethora of options in store for their future,” added Kristina Crowell, guidance counselor at Madiba Prep. “I want them to know that they can be as creative, as ambitious, and as determined as they need to be in order to reach their goals. I appreciate you all for coming out and shedding some light on your passion and inspiring our youth in the process!”

At our table, students engaged with a floor plan, colored pencils, 3D model of the Rockaways Retail and Community Development, and finishes board from 233 Landing Road/Reaching New Heights Residence. We also connected over great conversations. Their initial questions were probably suggested by teachers: What made you choose to be an architect? Do you have to take a lot of school? And we admit ours were basic to get the discussion flowing: So, what do you want to be when you grow up? (Good luck to the youngster who wants to become a professional YouTuber!) How’d you become a hall ambassador? What’s your favorite building in New York? Do you like art, history, math and science?

“We did our best to make a convincing pitch for architecture,” said Sengstacken. “I also tried to convey how varied the options are even within that category.”

But as the kids became more involved and interested, so did their questions: How do you put little fake people into a rendering? Who decides how the drawing looks: you or someone else? How hard is it to work with a budget? We like to think those questions were the sparks of inspiration being ignited. Hopefully we didn’t extinguish any aspirations by saying a budget of $100 might only buy a new exit sign.

Thank you to the Madiba Prep faculty for hosting us, and to the kids for engaging and entertaining us.