Construction underway for Union Settlement’s Washington Community Center; a facility serving to empower the East Harlem community
We are very pleased with how construction is progressing for Union Settlement’s Washington Houses Community Center. The project broke ground in the fall of 2020 with completion scheduled for mid March 2021. The project is fully framed with interior finishes, millwork, and glazing being installed. It’s a celebration of youthful color!
Union Settlement is an organization that plays a vital role in building a strong and positive community in East Harlem. Last year, Union Settlement selected Andrew Franz Architect to design the renovation of its Washington Houses Community Center, an 11,000-square-foor facility which houses the majority of the organization’s Youth Services programming as well as a senior center encouraging intergenerational learning.
The Washington Community Center will also host the East Harlem Youth Opportunity Hub, one of several Youth Hubs throughout Manhattan. These Hubs were initiated by the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office -- utilizing criminal asset forfeiture funds -- as an effort to prevent at-risk youth to enter the criminal justice system in the first place. Thought of as “Neighborhood Hubs”, the program coordinates family, community, school, and city resources in inspiring and accessible “one-stop” facilities in underserved Manhattan neighborhoods. As architects we strongly believe design is a means to improve our society, and we are so thrilled to be part of this effort to foster healthy and vibrant communities.
[Image above: New entry reception progress / Images below: New improved circulation routes with interior glazing (to come) will allow for views and better connections between key programs]
The Existing Washington Community Center Facility
The Washington Community Center provides a positive and nurturing environment with many fun and creative learning activities for its users, yet the facility itself, had accumulated considerable wear and tear. The project transforms the worn NYCHA-owned facility with reconfigured and modernized learning spaces and offices, building systems, windows, roof, and interior finishes.
The single-story, 1960’s-era building presented several challenges in terms of systems upgrades. Due to the facility’s low ceiling height, integration of new HVAC systems demanded creative solutions, and similarly, the thin walls made electrical distribution difficult. Together with window replacements and exterior repairs, these infrastructural challenges required a significant portion of the budget but are necessaryn order to produce a comfortable and functional environment long term.
Rejecting the notion that a limited budget means limited design
With critical infrastructure upgrades requiring a significant portion of the budget, the project focuses on creating a few select but high-impact interventions beyond the necessary upgrades throughout the building that will significantly enhance a person’s user experience. In particular, we saw improving the entry sequences as a unique opportunity to support Union Settlement’s empowering role in the East Harlem community.
The enlarged and relocated glass-enclosed entrance will allow passersby to see into communal areas and the expanded reception area. New efficient and transparent circulation routes will allow for views between key programs, while a fully upgraded seniors’ center offers an enhanced connection to the outdoors.
[Rendering of new entry design]
[Rendering of a new, expanded reception and entry area]
Economical, reclaimed, and repurposed materials
To maximize the impact of the remaining budget for creating visually strong design moments, we introduced economical, durable, and colorful materials and finishes throughout to reinforce the community center’s eclectic and vibrant culture. We also reclaimed material such as brick which will be repurposed in large new openings.
GO TO PROJECT HERE