In an area with high levels of poverty, violent crime, drug abuse and teen pregnancy one might think that sustainability would be at the very least an issue to challenge within the community. As these issues directly affect the community’s population of young people, the best place to start taking on improving the surrounding living environment within the area, someone could argue, begins with educational centres.
Designed by architects Peter Gluck and Partners, with structural engineers – Robert Silman Associates and mechanical engineers – Rodkin Cardinale Consulting Engineers, the new East Harlem School in North-eastern borough of Manhattan in New York City has been created to provide a space which furthers the education and interests of the community’s young people and families and to support community engagement within the neighbourhood. A primary aim of the new centre is to have created a space with a focus on ‘light, calm, creativity and community’ for students from predominantly low income families.
Over 27,800 square foot of five floors, the $9,355,000 development was completed in 2008 and as an independent not-for-profit school, the generation of investment stemmed from themselves.
Encouraging the protective and inclusive environment of the interior of the school is a pixelated façade enclosed in translucent etched glass.
An element which significantly stands out within the design is the formulation of the windows. Instead of being integrated into the building design traditionally within the exterior, the window openings have been placed within the interior, as a means of drawing in higher levels of natural light.
A fabric-like weave of windows screens the classrooms on the top floors, this design stands out through a variety of colours and reflectivity.
Protecting the future of the building with a sense of the future is the inclusion of an exterior rain cladding system. Through including this cladding, which has been composed of 85% sustainable raw materials, into the exterior building design the building is ‘able to’ breathe and it works to reduce the likelihood of mould.
Further energy savings are achieved through the highly insulated building envelope, controlling the degree of heating moving throughout the building.
The communal backyard area has been given a unique and relaxed design which includes sloped surfaces, artificial grass for easier maintenance, a weeping willow tree and amphitheatre steps.
The lower floors of the school have been allocated as public spaces, used mainly for events and gatherings. The entrance, multi-purpose gym, backyard and dining areas are connected through stairs and ramps which have high levels of light penetration.
The inclusion of shading systems and operable windows into the interior design gives teachers the control of maintaining the fresh and crisp learning environment, the design had aimed to achieve.
A strong element of the design was to take away the institutionalised atmosphere that is commonly associated with schooling centres. As a result the corridors have been intentionally designed to encourage a multi-use purpose; the hallways are enabled to become classrooms when required. Furthermore, the classrooms are physically adaptable in tune with the changing needs of the school. Long span structures with deep lateral beams support non-structural partitions rendering the opportunity to reconfigure the rooms at any given time.
On average the building functions at 17% less than the energy consumption of public buildings outlined by the EPA Energy Star Target Finder. This tool allows energy usage and consumption to be managed throughout the design phase by building owners and architects.
Zoned mechanical systems and occupancy sensors gives greater control over the indoor environment quality and manages energy consumption throughout the building.
Low-E glass has been used throughout the windows and façade, whilst paints with levels of low volatile organic compounds and responsibly sourced ipe wood benches have been included in the finished design.
In an area which struggles with socioeconomic issues, the economic end result of the design and construction of this communal space proved in the communities favour with a saving of $520,000.
The educational centre development has now been shortlisted for the 2011 World Architecture Festival in the ‘Effectiveness’ category.