Oculus - Fall 2014 - (Page 22)

feature (left) The performance wing, glass link lobby, and office wing viewed from street. (below) Site plan illustrates the Heritage Center (lower left) in relation to the 19th-century Weeksville houses (top). ©Nic Lehoux The site takes up one end of a city block, with frontage along three streets. The new building hugs the corner of the property farthest from the historic houses. It consists of two boxes - a big square containing an exhibition hall, performance hall, and research library, and a long rectangle of offices and classrooms. The two pieces are connected at a right angle by a lobby walled and roofed in glass. Research by Elizabeth J. Kennedy, ASLA, determined that Hunterfly Road took a curving path across the site. That route intersects the new building through the lobby. Through the lobby's glass you see the old houses at a distance that seems magnified by the intervening lawn, wetland strip, and meadow. The long vista is punctuated by two cuts in the gently mounded topography, sided in Corten steel, to indicate the missing road. The building's glassy transparency suggests a vitrine: you feel yourself looking back in time. The remainder of the site's street frontage is delineated by cast-iron fencing in five-foot modules. The modules are assembled from a suite of abstract-cornstalk elements designed by Everardo Jefferson, AIA, but in varying sequences "so when you pass by, it all comes alive," he says. Here, too, through the fence, the old houses and the meadow, which resembles a fallow farm field, are fully revealed. "We wanted to have the sense of overgrowth and abandonment," says Kennedy, as a A Showcase for History and Heritage Brooklyn's long-awaited Weeksville Heritage Center preserves a once-forgotten piece of African-American culture while celebrating its present and future B Y J O N AT H A N L E R N ER he Weeksville Heritage Center, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, is a hybrid institution. It was built to preserve and interpret a small collection of 19th-century vernacular houses, the only standing traces of Weeksville, an African-American farming settlement founded in 1838 after slavery was outlawed in New York State. But this is not just another historic village-museum. It also functions as a cultural venue, hosting exhibitions and performances. It maintains archival collections and a research center, and offers educational programs and a community vegetable garden. The challenge to Caples Jefferson Architects and Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architect was to engage and showcase layers of history while accommodating these multiple functions. The four surviving Weeksville houses sit along the route of now erased Hunterfly Road. Long hidden behind buildings aligned to the later street grid, the houses were rediscovered in the 1960s. More than a century earlier, life for the newly emancipated Weeksville residents was precarious; threats included the possibility of being kidnapped and sold back into slavery. "They did everything they could to keep their community from being visible," explains Sara Caples, AIA. "Their houses were indistinguishable from what anyone of modest resources might have built." The community came to number probably several thousand inhabitants before being engulfed by 20th-century Brooklyn. This remnant was found just when African-Americans were rediscovering their history and "making manifest that narrative," Caples says. "Our clients wanted to bring that out on the street and claim it." The design challenge for the Heritage Center was "to do that without trying to freeze the '60s moment" by incorporating motifs then current, but rather to "lead the dialogue - the idea that it is a living legacy. We wanted our building to be something that continues to unfold." The Heritage Center building would have to display and protect the fragile, irreplaceable houses, but also invite habitation and change. 22 Oculus Fall 2014 ©Caples Jefferson Architects T Culture and the City

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2014

Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Fair Shake
Opener: Making Culture, Making Place
Exemplary Expansion
A Showcase for History and Heritage
Hanging Out With Art
Let’s Get Visible
The Play’s the Thing
More Than Meets the Eye in a New Brooklyn Park
Musicians’ Magnet
Power to the People
Branching Out
Subterranean Subtexts at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum
In Print
8-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Fall 2014

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