Students Take on Manhattanville


Student proposals for Manhattanville.

Courtesy Center for Architecture Foundation

The evening of June 16 marked a commencement of sorts for sixth-grade students at P.S. 161 in Harlem. A presentation of models for a future Manhattanville was created by the students in response to Columbia University’s expansion in the Manhattanville/West Harlem neighborhood, a few blocks away from their school. Throughout the presentation, a wealth of knowledge was shared by the students who provided their own perspectives on how Manhattanville should be transformed. Ideas such as ferry terminals, hospitals accessible to everyone, recycling centers with green roofs, college dorms with practical amenities nearby, and open space were on the top of the list of programmatic elements.

The student investigation of Manhattanville was conducted by Jane Cowan, a design educator for the Center for Architecture Foundation. A partnership with the school first began when the students were in the fourth grade, and has continued as part of the Foundation’s Learning By Design:NY in-school residency program. The focus of the residency was to introduce the students to the history and architecture of Harlem with an emphasis on the inevitable notion of change in the city and in our lives. Students investigated the community’s history through its landmarks — constructing models of 25 significant sites, and writing and performing plays using those landmarks as the backdrop to historical and social events. Then they focused more specifically to the history of Manhattanville, where they researched buildings in the expansion area, photo-documented the streetscapes, and conducted interviews with people in the neighborhood.

A visit to Columbia provided students the opportunity to learn more about the university’s plans, as well, giving the students a perspective on the professional side of development and an opportunity to envision themselves on a path toward higher education. The resulting work was a synthesis of the many projects which took place during the residency. The students have been exposed to Manhattanville’s historic and architectural fabric and are informed of the changes to come. Their documentation of the area is an important record, and hopefully their memory of this neighborhood will remain with them and be passed on to the next generation of Harlem residents.

In addition to the participation and input of students and staff at P.S. 161, Leila Vujosevic of OMNI Architects and Hermes Mallea, AIA, from M(Group) offered their support, sponsorship, and time to the endeavor.

For more information about the programs offered by the Center for Architecture Foundation, visit