NYLON #13: Homelessness in New York and London

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA

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On May 31, 2018, I attended the Urban Design Forum’s 13th session of NYLON at the Center for Architecture. The series brings together experts from New York and London to discuss shared issues facing our cities and to have an open exchange of ideas and conversation. Architects were joined by city agency officials, non-profit organizations, and other experts in conversations ranging from safer streets to affordable housing and homelessness.

It was fun to have our colleagues from “across the pond” share their experiences, struggles, and successes via Skype. The numbers vary, and programs have different names, but the bottom line is that affordability is dwindling in both cities, which leads to structural increases in homelessness. Structural causes for homelessness are those not related to behavior and include landlord policies and loss of stable housing. Joslyn Carter, administrator of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), spoke about how the number of children and families in temporary housing has been rising. Rents have increased exponentially higher than incomes have, and working families cannot keep up.

So what is being done? Alice Brownfield, director of Peter Barber Architects in the U.K., shared several remarkable projects that included shelters and supportive housing. Their work is impressive and speaks to a scale of “home” that many urban dwellers don’t experience. It’s interesting to me that there was such low density in some of the projects, whereas much of our work in NYC is based on high-density city conditions and providing up to 200 beds (max) in a facility. The “cottage” feel of their Holmes Road Studios is very appealing. I also appreciate their embrace of brick masonry as a material.

Holmes-road---Elevation

Credit: Peter Barber Architects (found via http://www.peterbarberarchitects.com/holmes-road-studios)

Common threads in the work were dignity of space, welcoming and bright entrances, and common areas that encourage socialization. Basic needs like security and high-quality programming were also core contributors to success.

Jonathan Marvel, of Marvel Architects, spoke about his firm’s work in evaluating the Belleview Men’s Shelter, which houses nearly 800 single men. From their studies, clients and program providers indicated that security, dignity, services, and community are  the top of values and issues related to shelters. Jennifer Travassos, head of prevention and commissioning for Westminster Council, referred to coming home and relaxing in your jammies as a practice not available to the homeless. I found that to be a great, humanizing reference that those with homes take for granted as a contributor to mental health and life in general.

We were especially interested in this discussion since our Landing Road (aka Reaching New Heights Residence) project for BRC enjoyed its ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month. In an innovative funding model, non-profit shelter provider BRC developed a 200-bed shelter on the lower levels of the building which funds 135 units of affordable housing on the upper levels. The project marks the first new construction of a NYC shelter in 25 years and serves as a model for financing much-needed permanent housing.

“Our HomeStretch Housing pilot—Landing Road—provides beautiful, high-quality affordable housing  to the low-income individuals BRC assists in our shelters,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, president and CEO of BRC. “Through BRC’s The Way Home Fund, we plan to kickstart the development of a pipeline of projects that will replicate the success of Landing Road and ultimately create thousands of units of low-income housing, help the city decrease the size of the shelter system, and close down decaying and unsafe facilities.”

To connect back to what’s being done to improve NYC shelters, the Urban Design Forum sent their Forefront Fellows to Landing Road the morning following the ribbon-cutting as part of DHS’s Conscious Shelter Design initiative. The fellows were touring 15 different sites (including Project Renewal’s Ana’s Place) to develop guidelines for shelter providers that focus on maintenance, accessibility, landscape, and space utilization, among others. The architects, building owners, and program directors provided a tour and answered the fellows’ questions. It was interesting to speak of the design and programming of the Reaching New Heights Residence in the context of the previous morning’s seminar and comparisons to challenges and solutions in London. Issues related to entry, security, wayfinding, maintenance, and connection to nature all resonated. We were pleased to assist in the research and look forward to contributing further. The goal of DHS to become obsolete is a lofty one, and until it becomes a reality, we appreciate their efforts in making shelters places of welcoming and security.

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Interest, Involvement, and Inclusion at Career Day

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Madiba Prep’s welcoming blew us away! We toasted sparkling cider to the students’ success.

Madiba Prep Middle School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, rolled out the red carpet for ESKW/A and many other professionals on Career Day, May 16. We got breakfast, lunch, certificates, gift bags, and student performances. We even earned prime real estate on the career fair floor right by the gymnasium door.

“I was overwhelmed by our welcome,” said Amanda Sengstacken, one of our architectural designers. “The school was so gracious and appreciative. I really found it very moving, because as flattering as all the attention they gave us was, their enthusiasm underlined how important it is to the school to present their students with a wide variety of options for their future.”

We only hope that our efforts made the students feel just as welcome to the world of architecture. While the industry is improving, architecture has long faced a diversity problem. People of color, women, and other groups outside the status quo are still underrepresented in the field, and it’s up to us the change that. The AIA formed a Diversity Council in 2011 and ratified Resolution 15:1, “Equity in Architecture,” at its 2015 convention, and locally, groups like the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NYCOBA|NOMA) and AIANY’s Women in Architecture (WIA) are continually working toward change.

So just as the school was grateful to have ESKW/A and other occupations share their work, goals, and career paths, we were grateful to be there to inspire the next generation of architects and to make this industry more inclusive. Since our inception in the 60s, that’s been part of our work. Our co-founder Judith Edelman was a pioneer in the field both as a woman and a designer of affordable housing. It would be great to have some of the kids consider architecture as a career, but even if we just piqued their interest in the built environment around them, we’ve done our job.

Principal Anne Marie Malcolm began the day by saying that when she came here from the islands, she thought she only had three paths to success: doctor, lawyer, or educator. And while she loves her job, she’s curious if she would have taken a different path had she known what was available to her. After today, the kids at Madiba Prep should know there are several paths they can take: architect, urban planner, firefighter, musician, fashion designer, and occupational or physical therapist, among others.

“I want the students to know that there is a plethora of options in store for their future,” added Kristina Crowell, guidance counselor at Madiba Prep. “I want them to know that they can be as creative, as ambitious, and as determined as they need to be in order to reach their goals. I appreciate you all for coming out and shedding some light on your passion and inspiring our youth in the process!”

At our table, students engaged with a floor plan, colored pencils, 3D model of the Rockaways Retail and Community Development, and finishes board from 233 Landing Road/Reaching New Heights Residence. We also connected over great conversations. Their initial questions were probably suggested by teachers: What made you choose to be an architect? Do you have to take a lot of school? And we admit ours were basic to get the discussion flowing: So, what do you want to be when you grow up? (Good luck to the youngster who wants to become a professional YouTuber!) How’d you become a hall ambassador? What’s your favorite building in New York? Do you like art, history, math and science?

“We did our best to make a convincing pitch for architecture,” said Sengstacken. “I also tried to convey how varied the options are even within that category.”

But as the kids became more involved and interested, so did their questions: How do you put little fake people into a rendering? Who decides how the drawing looks: you or someone else? How hard is it to work with a budget? We like to think those questions were the sparks of inspiration being ignited. Hopefully we didn’t extinguish any aspirations by saying a budget of $100 might only buy a new exit sign.

Thank you to the Madiba Prep faculty for hosting us, and to the kids for engaging and entertaining us.

Meet more of the Team

ESKW/A has added several new team members over the last year or so. Get to know them in a series of meet-and-greet interviews.


Sunčića Jašarović

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Sunčića ESKWA

Sunčića on a site visit

Sunčića: I was born in Bosnia. My parents and I are refugees. In 1993, everyone in our refugee camp was on our way to Portland, Oregon. There was a layover in Chicago and we said, “We’re not getting on another plane!” My great uncle lived there. (He was a leather salesman who traveled all over the world but then shifted to engineering and became an elevator consultant. So it makes sense now why he was really excited about me pursuing architecture; he showed me his work consulting for SOM on the Hancock and many other buildings!) But then we moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and I went to school at Iowa State University.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Sunčića: It’s not always easy in this field for women, and the destruction of neighborhoods due to gentrification was diminishing my love for buildings. So when I learned about ESKW, their work, and their staff, I knew this is exactly where I wanted to end up. I learned a lot about Jane Jacobs and her activism in school, and here I discovered that Judy Edelman (one of the founding principals of ESKW) was kind of a kindred spirit.

I also have this intense professional drive and the sense that practice makes perfect. That might come from my grandfathers. They were both civil engineers, but over in Bosnia and Croatia that basically means they’re the master builders in charge of everything. In high school I was in ACE (Architecture, Construction & Engineering), an after-school program; my mathematics background (my father was a mathematics professor at the University of Sarajevo) pushed me into engineering. But when I tried architecture, it presented this huge challenge to create spaces that people can enjoy and be comfortable in. It’s mind-blowing, and at the end of the day that is our responsibility.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Sunčića: Right now I’m studying for the ARE and my friends can’t empathize so they don’t understand why I can’t do anything. Well, my lawyer friends feel my pain. But my boyfriend and I brew beer, and I love the beach—all of them. Croatia has some amazing beaches. That’s one thing I kind of resented about Iowa.

 

ESKW/A: Do you have any exciting trips planned?

Sunčića: I’m going to India next month, because an old high school friend is marrying an old college friend! And actually I’ve got another wedding a month before that in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

 

ESKW/A: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? (Credit: James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio)

Sunčića: I would hope it’s something about how many people I helped or just made feel good, even if it was just a smile or nod on the sidewalk. That’s why I like buildings. They have a huge impact and a real legacy. It’s a personal thing for me—because I love human beings.

 

Sunčića has been an architectural designer at ESKW/A since the summer of 2016 when she jumped in as a team member and model manager on 3500 Park Avenue for The Bridge. She has managed projects for Clinton Housing Development Company and is currently kicking off a renovation project on Teller Avenue in the Bronx. In perhaps the most challenging role of her career, she managed the renovation and expansion of ESKW’s office, working with some of the most demanding clients imaginable.


Matthew Feis

Matthew Feis ESKWA

Matt’s Pinterest profile picture

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Matt: Long Island and Brooklyn. I always tell people I’m a New Yorker in a nutshell.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Matt: Friendship and community! I was introduced to ESKW/A after playing tennis with a friend who is now one of my coworkers. He introduced me to the firm and I was really impressed with the history of projects in supportive and subsidized housing and the caring nature that the firm cultivates. I am pretty happy as a new employee.

 

ESKW/A: What inspires you creatively?

Matt: I really like collage as a medium. Also, this might be a weird answer, but I find that conflict motivates me. The architect is forever trying to solve multiple problems simultaneously.

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Matt: Oh man, the best place has to be the Serengeti in Tanzania. Seeing all the animals, the terrain, the sunsets—simply amazing. Wildebeests, dung beetles, and lions—oh my!

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Matt: Most of the time, weather permitting, you can find me playing tennis or just walking around in Fort Greene Park.

 

ESKW/A: What superpower do you want?

Matt: I am a huge X-Men fan. Personally, I would just want to fly.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh? Or alternatively, gasp or shriek (in fear or disgust)?

Matt: I find humor everywhere. I think it’s funny that I shriek at moths. I hate moths! If you ever go on the offensive, there is nothing you can do. They attack back in the most chaotic manner—they fly left, they fly right, and then fly in your face. It’s unpredictably scary! Plus, when you ever actually kill one, they just poof into dust. Are moths ghosts?!

 

Matt joined ESKW/A in 2017 and is a team member for the Rockaways Retail and Community Development project and has managed projects for Clinton Housing Development Company and BRC. He also looks forward to working with MHANY Management Inc. on several sites for new construction in the Bronx.


Frank Ball 

Frank Ball ESKWA

Frank at his desk

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Frank: In Connecticut, basically suburbia. I went to Pratt in Brooklyn and studied fine arts for half a year in Greece. The sculpture professor there was actually an architect who tried to talk me out of architecture, but I didn’t listen.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Frank: An instructor of mine is an engineer that works with ESKW a lot. So I met Kimberly and started here part-time when I was a student as kind of an intern—it’s not very hierarchical here. When I was done with school, I just joined full-time right away—even skipped the pageantry of graduation. I didn’t want to do the robe and all that.

 

ESKW/A: What buildings or spaces in New York City inspire you?

Frank: I really like riding my bike along the West Side Highway. There’s a great pedestrian path. And there’s tons of new construction going on over there, really cool stuff. And it’s going up at light speed. The Hudson Yards development is supposed to be the biggest since Rockefeller Center, so it’s neat we’re living through that.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Frank: Usually grilling because I have a backyard for the time being, but I’m about to move. It’ll be a blessing and a curse—fewer roommates and no dog accidents on the floor.

 

ESKW/A: Which celebrity or historical figure, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

Frank: I would probably have to pick a famous architect. I don’t know though, Frank Lloyd Wright had a concept that the house should be built around the hearth. But I think maybe it should be built around a grill.

 

Frank has been an architectural designer at ESKW/A since early 2017. He is a team member on PS32K for the NYCSCA currently under construction, and 1920 Cortelyou Road which will start construction in the spring. Frank will also be a team member on a renovation project for Catholic Charities in Queens.


Sarah Sirju

Sarah ESKWA

Sarah at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Sarah: Trinidad, then I moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and visited New York, and the culture and vibrancy brought me here. I just had to live here.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Sarah: I chose ESKW/A because the people—especially Lauretta and Lucille—were just so nice. It’s not a “crack the whip” place at all.

 

ESKW/A: What inspires you creatively or professionally?

Sarah: Just living in the city itself has a motivational factor. People around the world travel here to see the city and the buildings and the culture. It’s the concrete jungle, and we’re in it. It really is like that song.

 

ESKW/A: What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?

Sarhah: Singapore. The culinary culture there is something I’d been drawn to for a very long time. And architecturally it’s very interesting too, with the Gardens by the Bay, and I stayed in the tallest hotel. It had a rooftop pool that was basically just hanging off the building.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do for fun?

Sarah: When it’s cold, I like to stay indoors and prepare comfort meals. But when it’s warm, I like to go out and pretend I’m a tourist, explore, and take pictures. There are so many neighborhoods in the boroughs that are foreign to us.

 

ESKW/A: What famous person or historical figure, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

Sarah: Steve Jobs. I like how he started out, and I’d want to ask him how he became so successful.

 

ESKW/A: What superpower would you want?

Sarah: To become invisible, so I can walk around the city peacefully, and maybe bump into a few people so they can see how it feels. Or flight would be cool too, then you could just fly everywhere and not bump into everyone.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh—or alternatively, what repulses you?

Sarah: I guess I kind of smirk or chuckle when bad people get what they deserve. And then I really hate it when people sneeze or cough and don’t cover their mouths! Then we’re all touching the subway poles. It’s like, “Come on!”

 

Sarah is the assistant controller/bookkeeper for ESKW/A and has only been with us a few months, but has greatly eased our financial growing pains in the short time she’s been here. In addition to making sure everyone gets paid(!), she will bridge with senior staff to assist in office operations.


Chris Curtland 

Chris ESKWA

Chris enjoying sushi at an office birthday party, on his second day of employment with ESKW/A

ESKW/A: Where are you from?

Chris: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s called that because of the Cedar trees and the Cedar River. I went to the University of Iowa for journalism and English and got a job writing about facilities management, and then interior design, at some trade magazines produced there. That’s what got me into this architecture and design world.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Chris: I saw this job on Indeed, and the firm name seemed oddly familiar, like maybe I’d written about a project of theirs before. But I Googled the firm and couldn’t put it together. So then I Googled the firm name and my name and realized that I’d interviewed Joe Sultan about his flooring company after he’d left the firm! It was a wild, small-world connection. I mentioned that to Kimberly, and we also had the Midwestern connection, and we just really clicked. Everyone here is so cool and nice.

 

ESKW/A: What inspires you creatively?

Chris: I really like connecting with people, and I’m also kind of a natural storyteller. So that’s why I’ve been really enthused about working here. The design is awesome, but here it’s not just about making a pretty building, or architecture for architecture’s sake. It’s that this firm really cares about their clients, and the buildings serve those people and have a real function. So I’m inspired to discover those connections and then share those stories with the world.

 

ESKW/A: What’s your favorite place you’ve visited, or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go?

Chris: I’ve always wanted to go to Rome, because I studied Latin in college, and as a tie-in with that, I learned a lot about the classics. I think it’d be really cool to see the Colosseum and ancient sites where they actually spoke this dead, root language. Latin also really helped me as a writer—it expands your vocabulary and teaches you about sentence structure and phrasing, how a word functions in a sentence. Also with the magazine I traveled to Spain to learn about tile and ceramics, and that was really cool. Lots of great food, neat architecture, and some ancient stuff there too.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do for fun?

Chris: I do some improv comedy and a little acting every now and again. I started taking improv classes in Iowa because there’s a really well-funded community theater there, and improv teaches you to be very attentive and a great listener, because you have to be able to respond to your partner. It also teaches you to be very open and accepting so you can support your partner’s ideas, so I think it’s just helped me to be a better person, and performing is definitely part of the storytelling thing too. I’m also known to hit a karaoke lounge every so often.

 

ESKW/A: What celebrity or famous figure, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

Chris: Elvis Presley. To me, he’s more icon than man, like he doesn’t seem like a real person, so I’d want to just sit down and have a conversation with him. I really wasn’t even a fan of his until I took a class on him in college, for actual English credit! This class came about in the early 90s and Keith Morrison interviewed the professor for something like 60 Minutes, like “Why are you teaching a class on Elvis?” And this professor was from Africa, and he saw and heard all these things in Elvis I never knew existed. Like I always figured Elvis was the guy who ripped off blues and black music, but this professor saw that Elvis was actually paying homage to the original performers in these subtle, interesting ways. He would communicate with them and was very respectful of what came before. So I think I’d have to ask him about that.

 

ESKW/A: What superpower would you want?

Chris: I guess telekinesis would be cool, but I actually have to say telepathy. I think knowing what everyone else is thinking could do a lot of good—well, maybe a lot of bad too. But I think telepathy would help us empathize more with each other, and connect with each other.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh?

Chris: That’s tough because I love to laugh and I laugh at a lot of things. But in any situation, blunt realism really kills me. Ruth [see her interview in the post dated 4/20/18] has been cracking me up lately. She just tells it like it is, pulls no punches.

 

Chris Curtland has only been with ESKW/A for one month and has already launched our official Instagram account, among other promotional efforts. He is the firm’s marketing and communications coordinator, bringing nearly 10 years of professional writing, journalism, and content marketing experience, about six of which has been in the architecture and design industry.

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.

Meet the Team

ESKW/A has added several new team members over the last year or so. Get to know them in a series of meet-and-greet interviews.


Ruth Dresdner, AIA, LEED AP 

Ruth headshot

Ruth lunching in Florence

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Ruth: I was born in the Bronx, but my parents are Israeli. I went there at age 3. I returned after my first degree and studied architecture here.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Ruth: I was aware of Judy [Edelman]’s work on behalf of women and admired it from a distance. I also knew about the New Settlement Campus in Mt. Eden in the Bronx. I’d spent several years in healthcare design and I wanted to do something different and new. Always I try to do work with redeeming social value for the public.

 

ESKW/A: What NYC buildings or spaces inspire you?

Ruth: There are so many places in New York I love. Just picking from the slides in my head, one of them is the FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. It’s an incredibly crystallized, modern architectural design. It does everything right. The memorial is also outside, with no ceiling, so it creates these outdoor rooms, if you will. The official designer is Louis Kahn, a very important American architect—however ,the original concept came from his mistress, a landscape architect. Just another in the long list of uncredited women!

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Ruth: It is very difficult to pick a favorite. I travel a lot, and I’ve never been to a place that I haven’t been interested in. My next planned big trip is to Siberia, but who knows what will happen now with Putin?

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh? Or alternatively, gasp or shriek (in fear or disgust)?

Ruth: Trump! That’s the all-purpose answer.

 

ESKW/A: Which celebrity or historical figure, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

Ruth: That’s also difficult to pick only one. Someone I always admired is Susan Sontag, a writer. I wanted to learn more from her, but sadly she’s gone.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Ruth: I do what everyone does. I do my laundry! But no, that’s not a hobby. Of course, I also do some shopping, cooking, reading, meeting friends, going out.

 

Ruth 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 which is under construction, and the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers.


Michael Kowalchuk 

MK headshot

Michael traveling in Vicenza

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Michael: Manchester, New Hampshire.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Michael: I always wanted to end up in New York. I started working at a small firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and one of my bosses there worked at ESKW/A prior to starting their own firm.  I’ve also always been interested in affordable housing, so it was a match made in heaven.

 

ESKW/A: What building or spaces in New York inspire you?

Michael: There are two spaces, both by Renzo Piano. The New York Times Building because of its atrium with the birch trees. It’s a very surreal juxtaposition of environments right in the middle of Manhattan. And the Whitney. It has so many vantage points for viewing the city, and it kind of makes you feel more like you’re a part of it all. I was also an English double-major in college, which informs my approach to architecture pretty significantly.

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Michael: Havana, Cuba. It’s a really bizarre mixture of old-world architecture in the middle of the Caribbean, and there’s the political history too. It’s like no place I’ve ever been before.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you laugh, or shriek?

Michael: McMansions for both! Also I just saw The Little Hours, and it was really funny.

 

ESKW/A: What famous person, architect or not, and alive or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

Michael: My architect answer is Oscar Niemeyer. He lived through so much—most notably the military dictatorship in Brazil—and was instrumental in adapting Modernism to a regional/national context at a time when the “International Style” was being crudely exported to the Global South. My non-architect answer is Simone de Beauvoir, because she did so much for 20th century politics and feminism, and she’s kind of overlooked here [in the United States]. She’d certainly be an interesting dinner date.

 

ESKW/A: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? (Credit: James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio)

Michael: I think God (or St. Peter—he guards the pearly gates, right?) would say, “A for effort.”

 

Michael joined ESKW/A in September 2016. He has been a team member on 2865 Creston Avenue for Project Renewal, 3500 Park Avenue for the Bridge, and has managed several projects for Clinton Housing Development Company. Michael is an inaugural member of the ESKW/A’s book club and frequently lends his second degree in English to promotional efforts for the office.


Gary McGaha 

Gary

Gary at a wedding in Virginia

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Gary: Frankfurt, Kentucky—I was born there and went to high school there. Then I went to undergrad in Georgia at Southern Polytechnic State, and did grad school here at Columbia.

 

ESKW/A: What led you to us?

Gary: There was a building on my street that I passed by pretty frequently (892 Bergen Street in Crown Heights), and I thought it was fascinating. My girlfriend did some consulting for ESKW/A on 233 Landing Road, and she was the one that told me the building was theirs. She connected me with the firm.

 

ESKW/A: What building or spaces in New York inspire you?

Gary: In New York, spatially and from an urban standpoint, I’d have to say Four Freedoms Park and the High Line, but there are so many. The High Line is so unique and there’s not a prototype for that type of project. It takes elements of a dense urban condition and stitches them together to create moments that wouldn’t exist otherwise. The scenic factors augment these spontaneous activities and adventures.

 

ESKW/A: What is your favorite place you’ve visited?

Gary: I think it’d be between Paris and Vienna. There are so many layers between the contemporary and the medieval. And there are lots of monuments, boulevards, and the same kinds of opportunities for social interaction and surprise.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Gary: Well, when I’m not busy with home repairs, a lot of biking around Prospect Park where I live, or we’ll go to events and exhibits that are opening. And there’s the occasional travel upstate or to a close city like Philly—a little weekend train getaway.

 

ESKW/A: What makes you shriek or gasp in fear or disgust?

Gary: Kind of like a pet peeve? Cars that get in the bike lane.

 

ESKW/A: What famous person, alive or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

Gary: I might have to do a dinner party. Nina Simone, Martin Luther King Jr., Le Corbusier. That’s a good balance—or combination—of genius, visionaries, and just the greatest citizens or examples of humanity.

 

ESKW/A: What superpower do you want?

Gary: Teleportation. There are lots of moments where the biggest constraint on reality is time and space. And in New York, so much time is taken just getting from point A to point B. So if you could skip that, you’d have more time for everything else. Also I probably wouldn’t need a passport or a hotel reservation.

 

ESKW/A: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? (Credit: James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio)

Gary: “Neat or on the rocks?” Or maybe it’d have to be “How do you take your coffee?”

 

Gary has been an architectural designer with ESKW/A since August 2017. Bringing a mix of experience with both institutional and smaller scale interior work, Gary is project manager for the Lucile Palmaro Clubhouse renovation for the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club and an affordable housing renovation at 1772 Second Avenue. Gary also embraced the Revit challenge by being a team member on the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers.


Jon Mark Bagnall, RA 

Jon Mark Bagnall

Jon Mark at the Sailors Ball, which raises money for a kids sailing program in New York Harbor

ESKW/A: Where did you grow up?

Jon Mark: We moved around a lot, because my dad was a minister. So I was born in the South Bronx but moved to Long Island, then New Jersey, and so on. My mother was a social worker as well, so we’d go where the need was greatest. That’s where I found my motivation to work with nonprofits, institutions, and people who need someone to look out for their interests.

 

ESKW/A: So is that what led you to us?

Jon Mark: It’s kind of a small world so I was aware of firms doing this type of work. When you look at what we do, it’s exactly in my wheelhouse. I’ve ventured outside—I’ve done hospitality, even a casino!—but these often have specific design formulas, and I wasn’t feeling challenged. Here, I care about the work we do, and you can’t put a price on that.

 

ESKW/A: What motivates you creatively, in general?

Jon Mark: I think the reason I’m an architect and not an artist is that I need a client [laughs]. I mean I find that the client inspires and challenges me. I like to solve problems. When you have very specific needs—working with the elderly, or those with mental health issues or specific physical needs, or even sharks—and at the same time limited budgets, those provide a framework. Rules make it easier, because you can move around within them. They’re a starting point. It’s a creative problem that needs solving.

 

ESKW/A: Are there any specific buildings or spaces in New York that inspire you?

Jon Mark: For me, New York is less about specific buildings and more the overall texture of a city—going from neighborhood to neighborhood and experiencing the different patterns and scales.

 

ESKW/A: Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?

Jon Mark: The Yucatan really stood out for a couple reasons. We drove south through the jungle to Calakmul, a temple site which was still being uncovered. The largest pyramid of the Mayan period is there, and climbing to the top, you look out over the trees and see these little hills, and you realize that each hill is another temple that has yet to be uncovered. A landscape architect once told me that if everybody left New York, in a decade the city would be overrun with plants, and that’s exactly what happened to these sites.

Another thing is that the Yucatan peninsula is all limestone, very porous and soft, and it sits on top of the Gulf of Mexico, which flows around and under it. So you come across these huge sinkholes, or cenotes, where you can climb down to what looks like a little island in a shallow pond. You put on snorkeling gear and look down into the water, expecting it to only be a few feet deep. But it actually goes down 100 feet or more! I got vertigo as if I was looking down from the top of a skyscraper.

 

ESKW/A: What do you do on weekends?

Jon Mark: I enjoy sailing in the little sloop I’ve fixed up. My favorite sound in the world is the whoosh of air I hear after the hubbub of the outboard motor is silenced. I also like building things on a smaller scale. I built a small weekend house on Long Island without any drawings—intentionally! I just stood at different locations on the site, and again later in the rough framing of the house, and said, “I’m going to put this here and that there.” I also can’t help making suggestions to anyone who invites me to dinner and risks asking my opinion on their kitchen. I love seeing how other people live and finding out how they want to live. Maybe I’ll have a good idea. Then, of course, they want me to build it!

 

ESKW/A: What superpower or special ability would you want?

Jon Mark: To go back in time and just stand anywhere and see what a landscape or a city looked like 100 years—2,000 years ago… because we live on top of all these layers—of other people, their lives, what they felt, and what they built. It’s incredible.

 

Jon Mark joined ESKW/A in September 2016 and brings many years of new construction experience with him. As the project architect for the office’s largest housing development, he is a critical part of the Archer Green team for Omni New York LLC. He is also the enthusiastic leader of the office’s Building Codes Working Group and makes keeping up with codes a ton of fun.

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.

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