Oculus - Fall 2015 - (Page 39)
From Learning to Living
A crumbling old school building in Harlem is transformed
into affordable housing and a community center
B Y L I N DA G . M I L L E R
he first time Joseph Coppola, AIA, a principal at Dattner Architects, saw
P.S. 186, the five-story building at 521 West 145th Street was in dire straits.
Originally constructed in 1903, the former elementary school designed by
Charles B.J. Snyder in the Renaissance Revival style looked like it belonged in
a Gothic novel, not in Harlem.
The building had been abandoned since 1975. Trees took root within its
crumbling interior and branched out through empty window frames, letting in the elements. Decorative gates and railings were eroded, the cornice
was completely gone, and graffiti further desecrated what was once called the
architectural and academic pride of the Hamilton Heights community.
Nevertheless, Coppola could see the building's beauty hidden beneath the
grime and envision its potential to provide the community with well-designed,
much-needed affordable housing. "P.S. 186," says Coppola, "raised my curiosity
and emboldened me to strive harder to save and incorporate the exterior and
special interior elements. It was a unique opportunity to restore and adapt a
historic structure and rare piece of architectural culture for future generations."
P.S. 186 is one of nearly 400 schools and additions that Snyder designed
while superintendent of schools (1891-1923). Yet, despite the building's
pedigree, it took the combined forces of district rezoning, the need for affordable housing, the public's outcry for the preservation and adaptive reuse of
the building, and funding from city, state, and federal sources to convince the
Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, which has owned the building since 1986, and
its development partners to save instead of demolish the building.
Since June 2014, the school has been undergoing a $48.6 million, historically
faithful restoration and modernization process. The Residences at PS186 will
begin a new life when it reopens in June 2016 with 100,520 square feet of residential space and an 11,300-square-foot new home for the Boys & Girls Club.
The terra cotta, limestone, and brick façade with arched openings, columns, and decorative cornices is being restored, as are the decorative gates,
railings, and stone stairs in the two courtyards. Within the H-shaped building
- a Snyder signature design element that maximizes natural light and ventilation - are 79 residential units ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments, with the original 14-foot ceilings retained. New operable transoms
First-floor plan shows the building's H-shaped configuration,
with the West 145th Street entrances to the Boys & Girls Club
(bottom), and West 146th Street residential entrance (top).
and expansive energy-saving windows fill the new
units with light and fresh air. Other elements, such
as the "principal's platform" used for overseeing
student gatherings, were preserved for posterity.
The original children's entrance in the south
courtyard will be the kids' entry to the Boys &
Girls Club. Club administrators will use the original Minerva entranceway on 145th Street (named
for the terra cotta bust of the Roman goddess of
wisdom set in a niche above the door), which will
further visually anchor the club's key presence in
P.S. 186 is the third school to be rehabilitated
and adaptively reused for residential and community purposes. It is participating in the Enterprise
Green Communities program to provide sustainable, environmentally friendly, and affordable
homes, and is expected to be listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. <
Linda G. Miller is a New York City-based freelance
CLIENTS: Boys & Girls Club
of Harlem (owner); Alembic
ARCHITECT: Dattner Architects
DESIGN TEAM: Joseph
Coppola, AIA, Joon Cho, AIA,
The south elevation on West 145th Street illustrates the children's courtyard entrance to the Boys
& Girls Club (center), and the club administrators' Minerva entrance (right).
Home Game: Winning with Housing
EXPEDITOR: JM Zoning
HISTORICAL & ACOUSTICAL
Stephen Winters Associates
Fall 2015 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2015
First Words Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Affordability: Many Paths to a Solution
Housing for the 99%
An Active Market for Passive
Ahead of the Class
It Takes a Village
Support System, Modular Style
From Learning to Living
The DIY Approach to Housing
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Fall 2015
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