New York Architects Craft Vital Public Projects

Event: Design for Decades: Spaces for Learning
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.19.11
Speakers: Daniel Heuberger, AIA, LEED AP — Principal, Dattner Architects; David Helpern, FAIA, LEED AP — Principal, Helpern Architects; David Holowka — Senior Project Manager, New York Public Library; Sergio Silveira, RA — Assistant Commissioner, NYC Department of Design + Construction; Bruce Barrett, RA, LEED AP — Vice President of Architecture & Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority; Stephanie Gelb, FAIA, LEED AP — Vice President of Planning and Design, Battery Park City Authority
Moderator: Ned Cramer, AIA — Editor-in-Chief, Architect
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: NYC Department of Design + Construction; NYC School Construction Authority; New York Public Library; Battery Park City Authority; Dattner Architects; Helpern Architects; Artek; Bentley Prince Street; Knoll

Installation view of “Design for Decades” in the Margaret A. Helfand Gallery at the Center for Architecture. Pictured is the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library.

Sam Lahoz

A supergraphic of the word “imagine” adorns the wall of the restored St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). This text describes the lofty aspirations of the architects, clients, and communities of both the St. Agnes branch, designed by Helpern Architects, and P.S./I.S. 276, designed by Dattner Architects. These two projects, though different in their evolution, location, and function, required a similar imaginative vision to become realized.

Built in 1906 on the Upper West Side by Babb, Cook, and Willard, St. Agnes had fallen into disrepair following a series of ill-advised architectural interventions. The local community and the NYPL were dedicated to restoring the building to its initial grandeur and hired Helpern Architects to design a gut renovation. Since previous remodels had altered the original detailing and natural lighting of the library, Helpern focused on reintroducing daylight into the building. The firm uncovered fan lights on the street façade, as well as a glazed extension at the rear of the building. The community was so enthusiastic about these and other changes, according to Principal David Helpern, FAIA, LEED AP, that it supported construction progress with significant cash donations.

In contrast to St. Agnes, the local community of Battery Park City played a more political role in the construction of Dattner Architects’ P.S./I.S. 276. Pressure imposed on elected officials by neighborhood parents resulted in the city permitting an unusually rapid design and construction process. Further complicating matters, the site was spatially constrained. Dattner Architects proposed a vertical scheme in which a series of shared spaces in the middle of the building would separate elementary school students on the first floors from middle school students on the upper levels. Additionally, the firm designed the school to the Battery Park City Authority’s sustainable design guidelines as well as the SCA’s Green School Guidelines, resulting in a building that also serves to teach students about green design and construction, noted Principal Daniel Heuberger, AIA, LEED AP.

The Design for Decades initiative, which operates at a national level, highlights significant built work designed by AIA members. St. Agnes and P.S./I.S. 276 have been selected as part of the showcase. Projects are primarily exhibited online, but both projects are also on view at the Center for Architecture until 01.29.11.