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.

Prioritizing Health & Wellness During the COVID-19 Crisis

IMG_0749Given the times, ESKW/Architects has been doing our best to stay healthy physically and mentally while working from home. Starting last month, we’ve been sending weekly office-wide emails with tips for remaining active and stable, and individual team members have been leading other initiatives virtually. These are some strategies that are working for us, so please let us know in the comments what’s been working for you!

Our first email reminded staff of the 20-20-20 Exercise to reduce eye strain, which recommends taking a break from the screen every 20 minutes and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. A similar rule of thumb is B-B-B for Blink, Breathe, Break.

The weekly emails have also included links to the Headspace mindfulness meditation app, as well as apps that currently include free workouts like Nike, Core, and Carrot. One email offered tips for staying connected with friends and family with virtual dinner dates, game nights, and book clubs–and even suggested going low-tech and sending a handwritten letter or postcard!

Everyday on our #health-wellness Slack channel, Architect Daniel Horn has been reminding us to practice 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation at 2:50 as part of an effort led by at250.org that encourages everyone to stop and take a deep breath together, because stress can lower immune response and social distancing can increase feelings of isolation.

“I actually heard about @2:50 from my fiancée,” Daniel said. “But to our surprise the first time we watched it, our friend Arthur Grau from MIT was the one running them! It’s a very small world.”

In lieu of starting a new #achesandpains channel, one team member asked the #health-wellness forum for tips to ease lumbar strain and lower back pain now that he’s not at his normal workstation. Put a foam roller or rolled-up towel behind your back if you’re suffering yourself, or try standing at a counter for some portion of the day.

 

Our #lunch Slack channel was always somewhat active, but it is now more so as the team has been sharing recipes and plate pictures. We’re definitely starting to see more fruits, vegetables, and quinoa, as people have been seizing the opportunity to cook more and eat healthier instead of eating out.

Associate Janine Sutton Golub first started sharing shots of her plates while working from home as another way to stay connected. “As we’re pulled out of our normal routines, keeping some routine, even if it’s different, is very important,” Janine said. “I hadn’t made myself lunch in a while. I do miss our office’s neighborhood lunch options, but this is a new kind of fun.”

By far the most fun, relaxing, and engaging endeavor has been Thursday Yoga-Inspired Breaks led by Associate Fialka Semenuik. She had spearheaded similar in-office sessions in the past, which everyone loved, so now she’s taken our practice virtual. Lion’s mouths, downward dogs, and cat-cows–oh my!

Fialka has completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training course after first approaching a vinyasa flow practice as a way to manage stress and exercise more.

“I distinctly remember how good I felt after the first class. I began focusing on whole-body wellness and wanted to share the benefits with others, and that’s how it first came to the office,” Fialka said. “Now, thanks to the partners’ concern for everyone’s health and welfare both physically and mentally, we had the idea to put together health tips to share. I just hope my contribution has been valuable. More importantly, I hope to remind us of the inseparable mind-body connection and to find that one deep, full breath for the day.”

This has been a trying time for us New Yorkers and for the rest of the nation, but we’re doing our best to stay healthy, and we hope all of you are too. Be well and stay strong!

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.

myrtle for sara

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!

Ribbon Cutting, Revitalization, and Refreshments

September 20th marked the Ribbon Cutting of 1561 Walton Avenue and the renovation of the New Settlement Apartments. ESKW/A are the Architects for 1561 Walton Avenue, which is the latest project in our over 30-year working relationship with Settlement Housing Fund (SHF), which includes the nearby New Settlement Community Campus.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Alexa Sewell, President of SHF, welcomed a gathering of over 50 representatives including government officials, financial partners, developers, contractors, and—of course—architects. We are honored that she described 1561 Walton Avenue as a “gorgeous building,” which is SHF’s 18th to date.

“It takes a lot to make this happen: not only resources, but the values of fairness and justice, and multiple bright minds,” Sewell said. “This project represents former CEO Carol Lamberg and SHF’s huge commitment to the neighborhood, and we’ve remained steadfastly committed to it.”

But the real reason everyone was there, she added, is the residents, “who are ultimately the bedrock of this community.”

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

Sewell then welcomed up Joseph Ferdinand, who lives in the new building, to say a few words.

“I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t really believe in perfection. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’m being real,” Ferdinand said, before describing a rather perfect scenario enjoying his new apartment and performing all the seemingly simple tasks of upkeep and care within it, doing so with a notable sense of pride and responsibility.

Before Sewell invited RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner/CEO of NYS Homes and Community Renewal, to the podium, she noted that it was RuthAnne’s birthday and led the room in a round of “Happy Birthday.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than celebrating this project,” Visnauskas said, noting the holistic approach the Bronx community has taken to revitalization, including building a healthcare facility, arts center, and infrastructure. She also added that since 2001, Governor Cuomo and his office have helped finance 14,000 apartments, and last year the Bronx marked its lowest level of unemployment in 18 years at 4.8 percent, a direct result of these revitalization efforts.

The final speaker was Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). She congratulated all the stakeholders and partners in attendance for working together.

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Credit: Settlement Housing Fund and Joe Vericker / PhotoBureau Inc.

“Projects like these aren’t a marathon or a sprint,” Torres-Springer said. “They’re a relay.”

And with that, attendees sprinted (read: walked briskly) to 1561 Walton Avenue’s ground-floor community room for refreshments. We were honored to be a part of the ceremony and the project—and are proud to continue the work of building affordable housing in New York City into the future. Thank you to SHF and the Briarwood Organization!

(Daughtry Carstarphen, our Project Manager on 1561 Walton Avenue, recently left ESKW/A to become VP for Capital Projects at BRC. We miss her around the office but were very happy that she was able to reunite for the celebration.)

 

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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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.

Exemplifying “Design for Healthy Living”

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The view from the event location

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

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

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

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

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:

Creston Avenue Gets Diggy with It

Dante's hell

Photo credit: Hollister Construction

By Ruth Dresdner, AIA, LEED AP, and Marcella Yee, AIA 

At first glance it may look like a corner of Dante’s inferno—but this is, in fact, our construction team, hard at work at 2865 Creston Avenue in the Bronx.

They drill, excavate, clear rock, and pour concrete. At right, they are forming what will become the bottom of an elevator pit.

They’ve been working nights to make up for time lost to an unusually harsh winter (but this is a dedicated bunch, and we worked through it—proof below).

ESKWA Creston Ave rock

ESKWA Creston Ave

The foundation wall sits directly against the bedrock (below right). The team is taking great pains to keep the awesome rock outcropping (below left). The rock, like much of NYC’s bedrock, is gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’). On this site, rock hardness ranges from NYC bedrock classification 1B (medium hard rock) to weathered portions classified as 1D (soft rock). Hardness is a crucial attribute of rock because a building foundation can be supported on hard rock, while soft rock may not have the capacity to take the load. Also, when excavating rock, the softer it is, the faster it goes.

Bedrock at this site is mapped as the Proterozoic-Eon Fordham Gneiss, which is typically a banded gneiss to schistose gneiss with pegmatite intrusions. During the Pleistocene epoch, a series of glaciers advanced and retreated across the New York City area, initially scouring soils down to the bedrock. In the Bronx, bedrock is often exposed at the ground surface or covered with a thin layer of glacial soil such as glacial till or outwash sand. Since the retreat of the last glacier, roughly 20,000 years ago, exposed and near-surface bedrock has been subjected to weathering, particularly along joints and foliations in the rock. (Information in the preceding paragraph came from Geotechnical Report dated 12/17/2015 by Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers.)

At the other end of the site, a gabion wall is rising. It is made of steel wire baskets filled with pieces of rock excavated on site. Not only is it beautiful (at least in our opinion), but it is made of natural material, and by using what was already onsite, less material will be carted away, and less has to be trucked in. When finished, the gabion wall will be a 20-foot high retaining wall at the rear yard of the building.

ESKWA Creston Avenue gabion wall

Creston Avenue gabion wall

Stay tuned for more updates!

ESKWA Marcella and Ruth

Marcella and Ruth

Ruth Dresdner, AIA, LEED AP, has been an architect at ESKW/A for almost a year and has taken on two of our largest new housing construction projects. She is project manager on both 2865 Creston Avenue for Project Renewal, and the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers.

Marcella Yee, AIA, has been with ESKW/A since 2014 and has been a lead team member on the Creston project since the design phase. She was an instrumental architectural team member on the successful RFP for Archer Green with particular focus on façade development and detailing during design and construction documents. She is also project manager on shelter renovation projects for BRC.

BxC in the New York Times

The changing model of how kids can best learn in New York City has brought charter schools to the forefront of the discussion. This New York Times article uses the Bronx Community Charter School as a flashpoint for looking at the challenges faced by schools operating outside the mold and functioning under non-traditional funding structures.