Charrette for NHSJ


Taking advantage of the collective talent and experience of the office, Project Architect Philip Jenkin called for an end-of-week design charrette for a new commercial project. The client, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica (NHSJ), helps prospective homeowners navigate the messy and often predatory mortgage lending world. They also provide local neighborhood homeowners with classes on maintaining their homes.

Our design task is to renovate and vertically expand the existing two story Federal Style office building into a space that will better facilitate the social services offered by NHSJ. As Philip put it, “We are being asked to raise the roof – quite literally.” The improved building will have two additional floors atop the existing building, new egress, new elevator, and reconfigured office space.

Philip asked the office to (1) develop a concept sketch or diagram of what the building might look like; (2) develop a concept sketch or diagram of how the new addition might interact (structurally, visually, spatially etc.) with the existing building; or (3) think about how the unique program of teaching folks how to repair and maintain their homes can be incorporated in to the architecture. It was a great way to stretch design muscles and discuss collaboratively the possibilities of the project.

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Here are a few of the thoughts developed in the process:



Stand up and face the sun!  I used an A-frame, the universal architectural typology for domesticity — and is also symbolic of NHJS’s mission – for my sketch. In an act of contextual defiance, this simplified geometry was placed atop the existing building, and rotated approximately 20 degrees to obtain optimal solar orientation. The geometry was then clipped and cut to conform to the zoning envelope. The result was a jewel-like, faceted geometry that has been optimized for solar orientation, yet one that is typologically familiar.



Workshop: I like to look at context first and understand who the neighbors of a building are and how they might play together. It’s important to fit in but still be the new, interesting, fun guy on the block, so I started with a strong reveal separating the addition from the existing building preserving the completeness of the small structure. Since the users of the building will need to know about maintaining specific building materials including masonry, siding, shingled roofs, and operable windows with trim, I thought the new addition could act as a workshop or an example of how these systems work together.



In the client’s spirit of educating and supporting homeowners in Queens, NY, my proposed design concept for the rooftop addition is to reveal ‘living’ processes via the water wall and the rooftop grasses.

-Rainwater catchment is on full display in the lot line water wall….manifesting as waterfall in the glass cavity.

-Tall native grasses surround the setback addition as a natural, undulating crown atop the existing neoclassical building.

Building and ‘environment’ are intertwined….atop another building.



Because the mission of the NHSJ seeks to build communities through greater home-ownership transparency, my design focused on reflecting a “new openness.” Opening up the floor space in the offices will allow for more communication and a sense of movement and flow, as well as greater productivity. The “glass box” concept allows for these elements; and, carving up the 4th floor as a mezzanine leads to direct and indirect interaction between floors as well as the interior with the exterior.  There are also sustainability elements, too: green systems like water collection and roof gardens bolster the design.



I was interested in the relationship between the old and new building. Looking at the ideas of continuation vs. juxtaposition through precedents, I attempted to develop multiple conceptual strategies/diagrams about how we might go about expressing the old/new building relationship.

Philip and the project team have much to think about as they mine these ideas, and, working with the client, take the project through schematic design.


Under Construction – Hour Children

Hour Apartment House III in Long Island City, Queens, has topped out at the roof!  Our client Hour Children is thrilled to see the building rise out of the ground. Meanwhile, here at ESKW/A, we are relishing these views of back-up structure while we can, before the insulation and brick veneer wraps the exterior, and before the interior partitions are framed out.

Check back for more updates.