October 18, 2021
A Brutalist Building in Harlem Gets Updated to Connect with Its Neighbors
As Imrey discovered, the Franzen building, which was completed under Maynor’s leadership, was a terrific example of Brutalist strength on a modest scale. But some of the qualities that made it a gem of its time were no longer serving HSA. Most significantly, Franzen had designed an impenetrable brick facade with a hidden, curved Corbusian entrance. The wall provided a physical and psychological shield from the city. Now it was inhibiting an exchange and connection between students and the neighborhood. It also posed a security risk by preventing students and staff from seeing activity outside the building during drop-offs and pickups.
With the help of a team of engineers and specialists made up of 85 percent women- and minority-owned firms, and architect of record Eric K. Daniels, Imrey conceived a plan that removed the brick facade and replaced it with a glass curtain wall that could provide views through the main lobby out to Franzen’s rear garden, which is anchored by a rugged schist wall. They succeeded in persuading Pryor and the project’s benefactor, legendary trumpeter and bandleader Herb Alpert, to bring that vision to life.
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The $9.5 million face-lift opened in September 2020 and touched almost all of the school’s public spaces, including the canted metal-and-glass storefront, a gut renovation of its two-story atrium lobby, the addition of a pantry and café, a security area, and numerous infrastructural upgrades.
Outside, a concrete ramp and terrace offer a soft transition from the street to the building. “It creates a psychology of belonging, and that is so important to me,” says Imrey. “These things don’t happen with just a sign. They happen with the spatial, temporal engagement with a space.”
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