Architects breath new life into derelict school to create live/work community

Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects (HHL Architects), in collaboration with Brooklyn-based Victor Morales Architects, has transformed East Harlem’s PS 109, a derelict 1898 Charles B.J. Snyder-designed New York City Public School, into El Barrio’s Artspace PS109, an affordable live/work housing project for artists and their families.

The project, located at 215 East 99th Street, was developed by Artspace Projects, the Minneapolis-based non-profit, whose mission is to build better communities through the arts, in collaboration with El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, a Harlem based action organization.

The five-story, 114,000 s/f former public school, designed in Snyder’s signature Collegiate Gothic style, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, thus saving it from the wrecker’s ball and allowing for its continued existence and adaptive reuse as a residence and community amenity.

PS109 contains 89 permanently affordable units consisting of studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units that range from approximately 480 to 980 s/f.

To date, Artspace has received over 53,000 applications from potential residents and full occupancy is expected to be reached by mid-2015.

In addition to the residences, the project features approximately 10,000 s/f of commercial and 3,000 s/f of community space, including a large centralized gallery for resident artists to showcase their work, non-residential community offices and performance spaces on the ground floor and cellar levels that can be rented by local cultural arts organizations.

The renovation of the five-story building took over two years to complete and recently garnered a 2014 New York State Historic Preservation Award from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

The National Historic Places listing compelled the developer and architectural team to follow standards prescribed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior standards for the treatment of historic building.

Work on the historic façade included the addition of new terra cotta ornaments that replicate damaged or missing ornaments, the repair of the roof, several cupolas, and a 30-foot-tall copper steeple.
Snyder’s huge three-part ten foot tall window groupings, designed to bring daylight deep into the classrooms, were replaced according to historic photographs, with new ones that are replicas.

All above-grade spaces boast has that are up to 14 feet high. Other new features include ceiling fans, bamboo floors, and other project-specific features such as chalk board-painted doors in the apartments and bright colored corridor ceilings with playful ‘pick-up stick’ lighting.

“HHL Architects is deeply honored to have led the design and renovation process that transformed a forlorn, but still elegant historic PS109 into a contemporary, sustainable place for artists and their families to work and grow,” said Matthew W. Meier, AIA, partner.

“The care and thought that Artspace brought to the project was an inspiration to the architectural team.”
Artspace has developed 35 affordable art facilities in 13 states, including a three in New York State, all designed by HHL.

In addition to PS109 in New York City, HHL designed the Artspace Buffalo Lofts in Buffalo, NY, and Artspace Patchogue Lofts in Patchogue, Long Island.

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