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.

Gala Extravaganza 2019

The Bridge (3)

ESKW/Architects’ Randy Wood, Michael Ong, and Sunčica Jašarović at The Bridge’s Partners in Caring Awards Gala.

ESKW/Architects was pleased to attend several benefits the first week of June 2019, in support of the nonprofit organizations we’ve worked with for many years.

BRC

On June 3, the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC) held its annual The Way Home Gala to raise funding for its over 30 programs that help clients achieve their goals of managing mental illness, overcoming addiction, obtaining employment, and finding a place to call home. Over the last year, BRC has served 8,656 people, fielded 12,511 calls on its Homeless Helpline, and seen 5,386 clients successfully complete a program. We’re proud that Reaching New Heights Residence and The Apartments at Landing Road is a place they’re proud to call home.

The event honored Linda Gibbs, Partner at Bloomberg Associates and former NYC Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, where she spearheaded major initiatives on poverty alleviation, juvenile justice reform, and obesity reduction. During her tenure from 2005-2013, NYC was the only top-20 city in the U.S. whose poverty rate did not increase while the national average rose 28%. Before that, she served as Commissioner of NYC Department of Homeless Services.

The benefit raised over $1 million and featured a performance from Broadway star Desi Oakley.

The Bridge

The following day on June 4, The Bridge celebrated its 65th anniversary at the Partners in Caring Awards Gala, where they honored Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.; Jonathan D. Resnick, a developer of affordable and supportive housing; and Dynamic Air Conditioning Company as a corporate partner.

The night’s program included a video package about clients and partners, as well as a speech from client Charles De San Pedro, Jr., who is now pursuing social service work after his own struggles living on the street. “Homelessness has really taught me to appreciate what I have,” he said.

The powerful story was a highlight of the night and nearly tear-inducing, said one of our team members who attended. “Those stories are always a great reminder of why we’re doing this work,” Sunčica Jašarović added. Last winter, ESKW/A celebrated the ribbon-cutting of East New York Avenue with The Bridge, and currently 3500 Park Avenue is under construction.

Project Renewal

Also on June 4, Project Renewal held its 2019 Benefit + Auction, which honored Jonathan F.P. Rose of Jonathan Rose Companies, a mission-focused real estate development, planning, and investment firm.

Table centerpieces featured lively plants reminiscent of green roofs in a nod to the development of Bedford Green House, which topped out earlier this year in March.

“Bedford Green House’s design was inspired by the idea of biophilia, that there’s an innate emotional affiliation between human beings and other living organisms,” Rose said. “Deeply integrating housing and nature, in the project’s front yard there will be a colorful community with jungle gyms, musical instruments, and water fountains, all of which will be accessible to both families that live there and the community. In the rear yard, there will be a beautiful landscaped area with space for yoga and exercise classes. And the pièce de résistance of this project, and the real vision of Project Renewal, is a rooftop greenhouse, which will be filled with nutritious produce, an innovative vertical farming system, and it will also raise fish, providing a whole symbiotic ecosystem.”

The event celebrated Project Renewal’s several workforce development programs, including the Next Step Internship and Culinary Arts Training programs. Diana Perez, a graduate of Next Step, told her story of overcoming addiction and homelessness to pursue a career as the director of a future Project Renewal program.

“When I went into rehab, I met a lot of good people that helped me stay on the right track, and I want to be that for other people,” she said. “I have big dreams of how I’d want to run something. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the Next Step program, because this is where I feel like I’m actually doing something that I love and I’m dedicated to. It’s honestly unbelievable that I’m here; three years ago, I would’ve never thought it was possible.”

Over 800 people attended the benefit, which raised over $1.6 million.

Settlement Housing Fund

Closing out the week on June 6 was SHF’s 2019 Annual Benefit commemorating its 50th anniversary with the theme: “Building Housing. Providing Opportunities. Improving Lives. Since 1969.” The event honored Alicia Glen, former Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development for NYC; Anthony Richardson, Executive Vice President for Development of NYC Housing Development Corporation; and Charles S. Warren, Partner of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

We are proud to be part of their vast development portfolio dating back to the 1980s. “It is beautiful that SHF is celebrating 50 years of service to New York. We’re proud to have worked with them for close to 40 of those,” said Kimberly Murphy, Partner. “A professional highlight for me definitely includes working with them on New Settlement Community Campus. We’re constantly impressed with their innovation in development and dedication to the end goal.”

Fundraising events are not only important for the organizations’ missions, but they are a wonderful opportunity to connect with our development community and celebrate the great work that our clients provide to our fellow New Yorkers. We’re proud to continue this work into next year and beyond.

Bedford Green House Construction Update

Bedford Green House construction endured an unusually cold winter and a very hot summer, but the Hollister Construction team kept moving. Excavation is finished, and we are happily out of the ground! Provided by Hollister on behalf of the OxBlue Corporation, the image below shows the fifth floor concrete plank in place, with eight more floors to follow.

Bedford_Greenhouse-20180918-111343

IMG_20180815_095636881In the photo at right, note the large concrete box at the bottom of the pit. It isn’t a toy trunk or a sarcophagus, but rather a detention tank for stormwater, as required by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

The project is being designed to meet, if not exceed, LEED Gold standards. It includes a living green facade and a green wall in the lobby, but its crowning jewel and reason for its namesake is the rooftop greenhouse. For a full project description and more images, visit our website.

“The building contributes to the neighborhood, making it greener, healthier, and more connected,” Partner Andrew Knox told CityRealty.com.

Be sure to keep visiting our blog for more construction updates—or if you’re eager to follow the ongoing construction day to day, check out the contractor’s live cam here.

ESKW/A Composts with the Bokashi Method

Promoting sustainability and specifying green products in buildings have become second nature to architects today. Every project is an opportunity to consider our impact on the environment, including our very own office operations.

Looking at how much food waste our sixteen-person firm generates, and looking to divert food waste away from a landfill, we sought an office-friendly way to compost our food waste. That’s when small-business owner Vandra Thorburn of the Vokashi Company came to us with the solution: fermentation NOT putrefaction, via the “bokashi method.”

Developed in Japan, the bokashi method uses a select group of microorganisms applied on a carrier such as wheat bran to quickly break down organic matter, including meat and cheese – typically “no-nos” in conventional composting. Composed of yeast-like bacteria, molasses and water, the bran ferments the food scraps anaerobically and so produces virtually no smells or mess. Vandra made an in-house visit to instruct the office on the process. (We initiated the Vokashi bucket with some banana and grapefruit peels.) Based on our office size, Vokashi provides us with two buckets for food scraps and the inoculated bran to sprinkle over each layer deposited. Here, we added the flowers to the bucket, alternating each layer with bran.

When we lift the lid off the bucket, we have the sweet smell of fermentation to contend with, instead of the smell of decay! A few here at the office have even started bringing in food scraps from home to contribute to the bright green compost buckets. For a small monthly fee, we are able to compost daily, including leftovers from Lunch-and-Learn presentations.

Once a month, a Vokashi representative comes to pick-up the buckets, either taking our organic matter to urban community gardens in New York City, or adding to their soil-amendment experiment at Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn. We’re very excited about this experiment, as Vokashi is mixing the bokashi-fermented matter together with sandy soil, and sawdust from local woodworking shops, thereby diverting more waste from the landfills and creating enriched soil. Vokashi sees a future in using their methods in larger bioremediation of urban sites, and ESKW/A is proud to contribute to such an innovative company.

If you’re interested in better disposing of your food waste, too, visit Vokashi here for more information.