d3 Natural Systems Competition Honorable Mention
Even in a city as dense and resourceful as New York, where every square inch of tenable space has seemingly been identified, claimed and occupied, there still manages to exist an abundant amount of underutilized, unconsumed extant space.
While typically the epicenter of urban blight, the alley offers an extraordinary opportunity to integrate into the surrounding community by tightly interweaving into the nooks and crannies of the city fabric. By doing so, the alley becomes no longer a vacuous urban residue, but instead an activated realm of social and communal usefulness and interest, a sustainable refuge for impromptu community activity and culture.
The Alleyway School constitutes a proposal for an extramural school between 6th and 7th Street in New York’s Lower East Side, one which transforms this unused space into a dynamic place for extracurricular physical and mental stimulation and celebrates the uniqueness of this lost interstice by injecting into it a sense of childish levity through continuous serpentine meanders of interwoven program and circulation.
The school’s program itself is a response to the need of its local community, offering children access to education and facilities surrounding issues of physical and psychological health. With activities ranging from basketball and dance to martial arts to cooking, the Alleyway School offers a hygienic environment to pursue productive extracurricular activities that engage both body and mind.
The rich offering of programs extends axially along the axis of the alley, forming meandering spaces within which create a network of continuous linear spaces for free play, interjected by organized activity zones. This meander of programmatic components draws inspiration from coral skeletal growth, an inspiration that ultimately extends into the overarching organizational and structural principals that shape the project.
Coral -- particularly hermatypic, or stony, coral -- grows primarily in an asexual manner, multiplying through polyp fission and budding over generations. As the colony grows, the skeleton underneath increases in its mass, leaving a complex, serpentine column of complex skeletal formations that trace each periodic generation of accretive growth. The walls of this column are composed in part by radial striations called septa and costae, which extend intra- and extra-columnar material to attach to other skeletal columns. This creates an intricate network of shared walls along with a rhythm of structural growth intervals.
The building’s fabrication strategy draws inspiration from this growth pattern, and rationalizes its construction through the logic of metal ductwork. Much like the generational, accretive nature of the coral skeleton’s development growth, the building is built up of multiple series of ring cassettes primarily composed of a sandwich of folded metal sheets, each 4’ deep. These modules are connected to one another and to the adjacent buildings’ structural slabs, transferring the load within and between modules from bottom to top. The whole building is thereby entirely suspended above ground – much like a child’s treehouse -- freeing up the alleyway itself and letting it function as a pedestrian thoroughfare.
The building origin is rooted in the center of the alleyway, where the school lightly touches the ground to provide entry up into the structure. Above is a café that serves both the school and the alleyway pedestrian traffic, on top of which is an open-air multimodal court from which the alley meanders originate.
As the building develops towards the street-fronts it goes through several generations of budding, in which the building mass expands and bifurcates to take full advantage of the limited space in the alleyway, in both horizontal and vertical directions. This action also breaks up the interior spaces and creates in shuffles the programmatic relationships through the divergence and convergence of space, program, and circulation.
In all, the Alleyway School represents a stance of opportunism in the face of an overcrowded, dystopian urban state: to inject a sense of play and organicism into the nooks and crannies of such a condition is to seek a sustainable solution for the mental and physical health of the city -- a panacea for the rigidity and disquiet often concomitant with urban density.
Status: Competition Entry
Location: New York, NY, US