Community Involvement

We spent a semester designing–and redesigning–our project for the Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center, located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Now we’re ready to build it. The only thing that remains is…more designing.  We now know that making architecture requires a perpetual zoom in and zoom out of our work, in a constant dance of reexamining the relevance of each move, from several perspectives. It is at this fine-tuning stage that the design team finds itself hovering over plans and computer screens debating a handrail, among other things. This attention to detail is crucial. We know that it will pay off in the end.

This summer the Parsons Design Workshop, a group of 7 grad students and 1 undergrad enrolled in The New School’s architecture programs, under the leadership of director Alfred Zollinger and instructor Joel Stoer, is working on enclosing the lobby at the historic Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center. The project is part of the school’s ongoing pro bono architectural and construction services to nonprofit organizations. In the process we get hands-on experience with how buildings are made and with designing a real project for a community. In this instance, we worked with the NYC Parks & Recreation Department and the City Parks Foundation to design and construct Highbridge in flux.

Currently the recreation center has an open-air portico. During the cold months, this requires the children in the afternoon program to put on their coats to move from one part of the facility to the other. What’s more, the existing configuration of the recreation center only allows for limited programming in winter.

Splash House, last year’s Design Workshop project, the first at the Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center, moved summer pool goers’ locker rooms and changing spaces onto the pool deck. The design pulled circulation to the north and south edges of the exterior of the building. This solution allows the center’s front entrance to function autonomously of the pool, and permits uninterrupted activity inside the facility.  The intent of in_flux is to enclose this center space and enable year-round access to the historic center. The new space will unify the structure, breathing new life into a year-round community recreation center. This “living room” will also be the heart of the Highbridge community.

This past week, two students in the Design Workshop presented the project to Community Board 12, which is responsible for connecting the interests of Washington Heights’ residents with municipal operations. Our design received their praise and support and unanimous approval. All along the design’s fitness for the community has been paramount. We are pleased that we got this far, though a few hurdles remain.

But with the Community Board’s and the Landmarks and Preservation Commission’s approval, we are enthusiastic about embarking on the second phase of our project. In the meantime, we are fundraising for it, and letting the community know what lies ahead for the center. Stay tuned!

Amy Obonaga is enrolled in the Parson’s School of Constructed Environments MArch program. She was an intern at the Van Alen Institute in New York City where she learned about architecture designed to serve the public. In the long term, she intends to fashion a career that will allow her to create architecture that successfully addresses some of the struggles that lie ahead for humanity, particularly those that relate to the future allocation of our dwindling resources.

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