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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Mayor de Blasio Visits 1561 Walton Avenue

de BlasioToday, at Settlement Housing Fund‘s 1561 Walton Avenue, the Mayor announced that 2017 marked the highest number of affordable housing units produced in the City’s history.

His administration financed 32,116 affordable homes last year, breaking the all-time record previously set by former Mayor Ed Koch in 1989 of 25,243 units, according to the press release. The City also broke the record for the most new construction with 9,140 affordable homes. Nearly 60 percent of all homes financed will serve New Yorkers making less than $47,000 for a family of three.

We’re honored to serve this mission. Below are the official photos of our 1561 Walton Avenue project, which provided 60 affordable units.

A video of today’s event appears at the end of the post, in which Mayor de Blasio hands a resident the keys to her new home to celebrate the milestone.

 

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”

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:

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.

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

Meet Mike, Melissa, Marcella, and Amanda

ESKW is pleased to announce the addition of four new team members this month!  Below, we invite you to get to know them through some brief ‘welcome to the team’ interviews.


ESKW_MikeOng

Mike Ong

Mike

ESKW: So where are you from?

Mike: Born here, in Chinatown, raised in Queens.

ESKW: What was the first album you owned?

Mike: Oh god.  It was rap.  Notorious BIG.  Ready to Die was the album.

ESKW: What was your dream job when you were a kid?

Mike: It’s funny, if you think like kid, kid?  Before a kid that knows what a profession is?  It was actually a knight.  I thought they were the coolest thing.  You know, what they stood for.

ESKW: What spaces or buildings in NYC inspire you?

Mike: Waterfront areas — I gravitate to those spaces more.  And especially there because you get to see Manhattan skyline.

ESKW: What might you be found doing on weekends?

Mike:  Oh that’s easy, basketball.  Otherwise I’m doing some martial arts training.  Kung Fu.  Specifically Shao Lin.

ESKW: Would you be interested in leading the office in some martial arts mini-training classes?

ESKW Mike Ong

Mike: Haha sure! That sounds like it could be fun.  I’m a believer that the more you are engaged physically the better your mind functions.  One important note: my experience and training has been more about physical conditioning and less about self-defense.  For me it’s a physical form of meditation.  So a mini-training class would have that approach and not really “how do I break out of a choke hold” scenarios.

ESKW: We promise to be meditative and respectful, as long as you respect our right to wear neon spandex and blast ‘the eye of the tiger’ throughout.

Mike: [Laughing]  Yes all colors are welcome!  And I’m a big Rocky fan too.

ESKW: If you had to pick a project that you’ve worked on, academically or professionally, to live in for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Mike: It’s actually a studio project that I did.  And it ties back to my martial arts training, so for my final project there was this abandoned church that we had to renovate, and a sort of quarry not too far away.  For me it became this martial arts retreat center, where you’re in the quarry or up in this temple and there’s all these training spaces—it became an obstacle course kind of thing.


ESKW_MelissaRouse

Melissa Rouse

Melissa

ESKW: So where are you from?

Melissa: Outside of Atlanta, I guess I would say.  That’s where my parents are.

ESKW: What might you be found doing on weekends?

Melissa: I spend a lot of time with my friends on weekends.  Right now I try to be outside a lot, rooftopping.

ESKW: What was your dream job when you were a kid?

Melissa:  I remember when I was super little I said I wanted to be an exercise instructor.

ESKW: [Laughing] Well that can be your retirement plan.

Melissa:  [Laughing] Yeah.

ESKW: When the going gets tough, what’s blasting in your headphones?

Melissa:  I have different music for daytime and nighttime.   I really like The Format, which no longer exists — it’s the guy from Fun.  And the Decemberists, too.

ESKW: So what inspired you to be an architect?

Melissa_ESKWMelissa: Well we traveled a lot when I was growing up.  We lived in Germany for three years and we did a lot of traveling during that time, so just looking at all the different styles I guess peaked my interest in design.

ESKW: What spaces or buildings in NYC inspire you?

Melissa: There’s a SHOP building in Meatpacking that I really like.  It’s the one where they did an addition on top of it – the Porter House.  And I spend a lot of time on the waterfront, on the west side.  I really like that, the outdoor space there.


ESKW_MarcellaYee

Marcella Yee

Marcella

ESKW: Where did you grow up?

Marcella: I grew up in California in the Bay Area.  I think I grew up with a big sense of place.  I really liked going to parks with my cousins or going and seeing new places and my parents would always bring me to museums and we traveled a lot.  It was important to my parents to go around and see a lot of culture and I think noticing that helped influence me and noticing how that shaped the community.  And that’s really important to architecture too.

ESKW: What spaces or buildings in NYC inspire you?

Marcella: More the spaces.  New York has really great parks.  One of my favorite places to go is Governor’s Island.

ESKW: When you researched this firm before applying, what was your impression of ESKW/A?

Marcella: Just from the website and the statement of purpose that the firm stands for, I thought ‘Oh man, this firm is really dedicated to the New York community.’  And then I found the blog and you get a better sense of how the office culture is and you can just tell that they are probably the friendliest bunch of people you’ll ever meet!

ESKW: If you had to pick a project that you’ve worked on, academically or professionally, to live in for the rest of your life, what would it be?

MarcellaMarcella: This was a first year project, so I didn’t know what I was doing yet and I was a lot more free with it …  the things that I could just do.  Our project was in these hills on a site near our school, and the school is placed in this really scenic coastal city in California.  I did this all glass building and I put a waterfall that flowed from the second story to the first story.  Yeah, I would live in that building.


ESKW_AmandaRoyaleSengstacken

Amanda Royale Sengstacken

Amanda

ESKW: Where are you from?

Amanda: New York State – Rockland County.  In the city we call it ‘upstate’ but honestly it’s about as far ‘downstate’ as you can go before you’re in Manhattan so that always irks me.  So I’m from ‘downstate NY’.

ESKW: What might you be found doing on weekends?

Amanda: I go indoor rock climbing most weekends.  I’m also trying to take advantage of the weather and work on biking in the city.  I just learned how to ride a couple years ago so I have a long way to go.  But I maintain hope that I’ll manage to bike to work at least a few times this year.

ESKW: What spaces or buildings in NYC inspire you?

AmandaAmanda: I will never stop having a sense of joy and wonderment when I ride over a bridge at night and look back at the city.  And its reflection on the water.  It’s lucky we have the smog; if there were stars too I couldn’t handle it.  I feel that sense of ownership that all New Yorkers do, and maybe more because I grew up nearby – NY was always just The City.

ESKW: If you had to pick a project that you’ve worked on, academically or professionally, to live in for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Amanda: I did this museum for my 5th semester studio, in Italy on a steep hill, and the studio was all about interpreting the way fabric can be manipulated to create structure.  I came up with this translucent, vaulted, pleated museum twisting down the hill, totally impossible of course, but I wish I could walk through it.  Assuming we wouldn’t all be fried like ants under a magnifying glass inside.