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.

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.

 

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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Happy 30th Anniversary, Randy!

On July 12, 2018, we celebrated Partner Randy Wood’s 30th anniversary with the firm. Staff, family, and friends toasted Randy’s career with champagne, wine, and craft beers. We enjoyed BBQ and listened to musical stylings curated by the guest of honor himself—while muted screenings of Randy’s favorite films (West Side Story, Blade Runner, Repo Man, Brazil, In Like Flint, Spirited Away, Gojira, and Thunderbirds Are Go) played in the background.

Randy started at The Edelman Partnership / Architects in 1988 and has worked on a wide variety of housing, community facilities, institutional, and most recently cultural and aquatics projects. From Two Bridges to True Colors; LaMama Theater to LaMattina Wildlife Center; and St. Marks to Sharks!, Randy has led the firm with a trademark combination of calm and humor.

We at ESKW / Architects (past and present staff alike!) thank Randy for his leadership—and even though he loves the Patriots and Red Sox, we appreciate his devotion to New York City architecture.

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From the early days…

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…to nowadays, the man wears many hats…

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… and a suit and tie when needed!

Here’s to 30 more years!

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”

#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!

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!

Interest, Involvement, and Inclusion at Career Day

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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.

Building on the Chinatown Health Clinic Foundation

Charles B Wang elevationBy Chris Curtland

Several of our team members attended the Chinatown Health Clinic Foundation’s 47th Annual Gala on May 8, which was held to raise funds to improve access to quality healthcare for underserved Asian Americans and other vulnerable populations.

ESKW/A designed the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center (CBWCHC) for adaptive reuse (at right; interior photos at post ending) in 2003, which was our fourth commission undertaken for the foundation. We also helped sponsor the gala and are currently working with CBWCHC on a new construction clinic project in Flushing.

Charles B. Wang donated $2.5 million at the event, while those in attendance bid several thousands on a variety of outings and goods. Even those who didn’t win an auction took home handsome prizes of their own in a swag bag, which included Hi-Chews, fortune cookies, crackers, ramen, and a stress ball.

The event’s attendance was staggering, as 800 guests filled the enormous Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth Street. Aries Dela Cruz, Manhattan’s regional representative for Governor Cuomo, gave opening remarks about how encouraging it was to see so many dedicated to a cause that began with so few supporters decades ago. Jane T. Eng, Esq., president and CEO of CBWCHC, energized the crowd by asserting that healthcare access should be universal, which resounded with our team.

“I was inspired to see so many healthcare providers talking about healthcare as a right, not a privilege. It was clear that everyone in the room felt a deep sense of pride for the work that they do and the marginalized communities they serve,” said Michael Kowalchuk, one of our architectural designers. “The night was a wonderful way to celebrate the ongoing progress and resiliency of the Chinese American community, one of New York City’s most vibrant immigrant communities.”

Dr. Sherry Huang and Dr. Angela Chan, from CBWCHC’s pediatrics department, resonated with me specifically by stressing the importance of providing those with specials needs the essential healthcare they require. They played a video of testimonials from family members of people with disabilities, describing how the clinic’s care and community has supported and empowered them. My brother was born with cerebral palsy, so that part of the night was particularly powerful for me.

Our relationship with the foundation began some 36 years ago when Harold and Judy Edelman first worked with the CBWCHC to develop their initial clinics. Last Tuesday night was full of reminders that we’re doing good work, but that the work isn’t over. It was also a night full of great food, discussion, and entertainment—so we thank the Chinatown Health Clinic Foundation for hosting, and look to continue building on this relationship for several more decades to come.