Though pockets of resistance remain, years have passed since the East Village covered its anarchy tattoos with button-down oxfords and exchanged its facial piercings for iPhones. Where once squatters reigned, it is now possible to buy a latte and shop at the Gap.
Recently, the city took it upon itself to tidy up one of the neighborhood’s older cultural mainstays: 122 Community Center, a former public school building on 1st Avenue and East 9th Street that the city has leased to a variety of public service and avant-garde arts organizations since the late 1970s. The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has commissioned Deborah Berke & Partners to complete a $16 million renovation of the aging structure and bring it up to current code requirements.
While the crux of the commission involves upgrading the 1894 building’s outmoded ingress/egress routes and substandard mechanical systems, Berke also saw the opportunity to improve the interior and how it was organized. The center’s primary inhabitants—PS 122 Gallery, Performance Space 122, and Mabou Mines—all grew into their rooms organically over the years, without much thought about how they functioned as a whole.
“The tenants all had different ideas about how to reorganize the space,” explained Maitland Jones, principal-in-charge at Deborah Berke & Partners. “We worked with them to determine what they could share and how we could make it feel like a fully cooperative community center and cultural institution, rather than a building that houses a bunch of non- collaborative groups.”
The architects quickly determined that the most economic and elegant solution was to place the new elevator, fire stair, and mechanical ducting within a tower addition situated in a yard to the north of the building. “Typical of a 100-year-old building, it has a fragile structural system of terracotta arches between steel structural elements,” said Jones. “You can’t just pop holes in that.”
Consigning these upgrades to the add-on pavilion also preserved the historical character of the original building, which was valued by tenants and the DDC. To minimize its impact, the addition will be constructed of light and luminous materials. The tower itself, a steel structure, will be clad in glass with a perforated and corrugated stainless steel scrim. A canopy and marquee that jut into the street, announcing the new entrance, will also be of glass and perforated steel.
The architects are also adding a new cornice—the original having been removed years ago—of perforated steel and expanded metal, which will hold light in a volumetric manner and function as a code-compliant railing for a planned roof deck. Currently, the project is in design development, and construction is scheduled to be complete by summer 2013.