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 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”

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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.

Public Housing & Corduroy Pants

By Frank Ball

If you ask anybody from the undergraduate program at the Pratt School of Architecture who Donald Cromley is, they will have a story for you. I started asking this question to fellow Pratt alumni here at ESKW/A, and their stories spanned the length of his career. He was once the right-hand man to modernist architect Marcel Breuer. At Pratt, Cromley was the department chair, building technology coordinator, and still works as a professor in both history and design. Most are surprised to learn not only that he is still teaching, but that even now in his late seventies, he still leads a walking tour through New Haven. Recently I went on this tour and was moved by what I saw.

On a Saturday morning in March, Donald Cromley’s students gathered at Grand Central. Even though I had graduated, I reached out ahead of time and asked to tag along. We took a New Haven-bound Metro North train to the end of the line and departed at Union Station.

Image by Frank Ball

We stood outside the station and looked at a stocky concrete apartment complex across the street. It was called the Church Street South Housing Project, completed by the late architect Charles Moore in 1969. Moore had been dean of Yale’s Department of Architecture (later the Yale School of Architecture) from 1965-1970, and would be remembered as a pioneer of post-modernism.

At the time when Moore designed Church Street South, his work was experimental. The façade obeyed a classical system, but with new materials. What would later be known as post-modernism essentially borrowed iconography from traditional architecture, mixed it together with modernism, and then reassembled everything into something new. The result was refreshing, and in a conceptual way, elevated Church Street South above a level of just basic housing.

Photo credits clockwise from left (collage by Frank Ball): clipgoo.com | Elliot Brown on Flickr, via the National Trust for Historic Preservation at savingplaces.org | The Museum of the City of New York at collections.mcny.org| Larry Speck at larryspeck.com

“Modernists liked this, you see?” Cromley pointed to the façade and tugged at the leg of his corduroy pants. Like his modernist contemporaries, Cromley also wore a bowtie (because a regular necktie could fall on his drawings and smudge.) Anyway, his point was that Moore used a ribbed block. To be more specific, ribbed block was applied throughout the exterior, except where classical details belonged. The top of the façade is smooth to express a cornice, corners are crisp with reversed quoins, and windows are cleanly trimmed. Everything else is rough and textural ––like corduroy pants.

Image found at newhavenurbanism.org

Once upon a time, the complex was painted with bright super graphics; there were architectural follies and sculptural elements, all early characteristics of Moore’s work. Today, the Church Street Housing complex is scheduled to be razed. We happened to visit on a day when the demolition crews weren’t working, and some buildings waited patiently to be torn down.

Paul Rudolph’s Temple Street Parking Garage

Image by Frank Ball

We continued on our tour. New Haven has an abnormally high number of parking garages. One such garage is Paul Rudolph’s Temple Street Parking Garage.

Image by Frank Ball

“Pay attention to the fenestration.”

We gathered around an elevator vestibule in the parking structure. Rudolph’s office designed the glass wall with simple off-the-shelf parts. The system doesn’t hold up to modern energy codes and has been replaced in other parts of the garage. But because the space inside the vestibule is actually unconditioned, it was allowed to stay. Cromley said these window mullions were originally used in other Paul Rudolph projects, including his namesake: Rudolph Hall.

One corollary of the modern movement was the use of as few materials as possible. As we walked out of the garage and looked back, the concrete streetlights on the upper deck were visible. Yes, concrete streetlights.

“Thank God he didn’t try concrete mullions!”

So why were there so many modernist architects working in New Haven anyway? Cromley told that it was an example of the town versus the gown. In the 1950s the president of Yale, Alfred Griswold, decreed that all significant construction on campus would be avant-garde, freeing Yale from the collegiate-gothic tradition. The amount of courage that it took for an Ivy League president to suggest this, let alone to convince a board of trustees to go along with it, is remarkable. Not to be out done, Mayor of New Haven Richard Lee said the same of municipal construction. Because so many modernist architects were already working on projects at Yale or were in the academic circle, they enjoyed easy access to New Haven projects. As Cromley put it, Griswold simply gave his list of approved architects to Lee.

There are examples of this quirky reciprocity throughout the City of New Haven:

Architect

Yale

New Haven

Paul Rudolph Rudolph Hall, 1961-1963 Temple Street Garage, 1961
Marcel Breuer Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center, 1968-1970 Armstrong Rubber Co, 1968
SOM Beinecke Library (Gordon Bunshaft), 1961-1963 Conte School, 1962
Charles Moore Dean of Yale’s Department of Architecture, 1965-1970 Church Street South, 1969

Please make no mistake, there are plenty of examples of architects working in New Haven before working at Yale, and by no means did an architect have to build in either locale to be considered successful. It also didn’t hurt that New Haven had been designated a “Model City” and benefitted from federal funding for urban renewal.

Yet I found other examples of the relationship between buildings at Yale and New Haven that are more complex. For example, the ribbed block on Charles Moore’s Church Street South Housing Project was invented by Paul Rudolph’s office. The concept had essentially been prototyped on Rudolph Hall. This was also a nice homage on Moore’s part, as he became dean immediately after Paul Rudolph but ran the department very differently.

Image by Gunnar Klack

I couldn’t help but reflect on another part of my education while thinking about Donald Cromley’s tour. At about the time when I graduated, Reinier de Graaf, an architect and partner at the firm OMA, published the ominously titled article, “Architecture is now a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission.” The title pretty much sums up the point I’m trying to make, but what happened?

Moore, whom I mentioned earlier, was hardly the first famous modern architect to take on housing for the social good. To name a few, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, and Louis Kahn all stamped their names to various forms of housing for those who could not otherwise afford it. In a way, low-income housing was a perfect corollary to the adage that “less is more,” because these architects had to work with less.

Today it’s hard to escape the feeling that architects primarily serve a privileged class (and that’s part of why I’m so proud to work where I do), but I want to see architecture at large return to its humanitarian past.


Frank Ball is a graduate of the Pratt School of Architecture and currently an architectural designer at ESKW/A. Among other things, he is currently working on the new construction of 76 units of supportive and affordable housing at 1921 Cortelyou Road.

From the Field – Support of Excavations

Kimberly Murphy

As 2016 will be a year of heavy construction administration, we’ve taken the opportunity to learn from each other and share our experiences in a bi-weekly office forum. One recent topic that has emerged from a change in the DOB application approval process is Support Of Excavations (SOE).

battleSOE’s are a Department of Buildings application filed to describe the design, means, and methods for excavating the site in preparation for the new construction. In our experience prior to last year’s filings, the SOE had not been a requirement prior to approval of the New Building (NB) application, leaving this application in the hands of the General Contractor as part of the requirements in pulling the Construction Permit. Now that the DOB is requiring the SOE to be submitted along with the NB prior to approval, the architects have become involved in this process and the SOE design, which is prepared by a geotechnical or other structural consultant to the Architect or Owner, and becomes part of the Contract Documents. Essentially the SOE design becomes another trade consultant to coordinate whose design has impact on cost and schedule. Including the consultant earlier than later in the design process and coordinating with the Structural Engineer has been key. It’s critical that we understand the impact of the proposed SOE design, the proposed impact SOE ESKWon the adjacent properties, and the resultant costs.

The cost associated with the SOE work is significant, and as with any trade, there are several ways to skin the cat. The SOE design that goes out to Bid, could be subject to value engineering and is a way that submitting Bidders can propose to cut costs. This could mean revising the consultants’ design or even replacing the SOE application and superseding the design professional.

Even once the SOE and the NB are approved and the GC has permits in hand, there is no guarantee that things will sail smoothly. Due to unforeseen below-grade conditions, the SOE design is likely to change—possibly many times. As with all approved DOB applications, the SOE then needs to be amended to reflect the updated design.

We all know that getting out of the ground is more than half the construction battle, so being more familiar with the SOE process has become something worth talking about. Our internal office discussions have been crucial for furthering our knowledge.  Any thoughts or experience with SOE? Feel free to comment or contact us!

Happy digging!