Inside the Archtober Building of the Day #19: East Harlem School

Inside the Archtober Building of the Day #19: East Harlem School

East Harlem School by Peter Gluk and Partners. (Coutesy Peter Gluk and Partners)
East Harlem School by Peter Gluk and Partners. (Coutesy Peter Gluk and Partners)

A rainy day couldn’t dampen the spirits of the fourth graders that we met playing hoops in the brightly lit gym of the East Harlem School. It looks to me that there are two geniuses behind this wonderful building: Peter Gluck, the acerbic and seasoned architect/builder and Ivan M. Hageman, co-founder and Head of School.

Gluck led the tour, but Ivan was ever-present—in the cafeteria leading an appreciation of the chef and servers, and in the reception area meeting with parents. He welcomed us into his office, which is perched at the east end of the building with a clear glass open view up 103rd Street to the Public School embedded in the nearby housing project. Jane Jacobs eyes on the street.

An overhead of the rooftop playground. (Courtesy Peter Gluk and Partners)

The East Harlem School is an independent school—think Collegiate School or Dalton. It doesn’t have to play by any rules handed down from political higher ups, construction authorities, or educational commissions, and come to think of it, the East Harlem School seems to play by rules from higher powers. Its mission is to rescue middle schoolers from their context with a nine hour school day and an eleven month school year. Stressing moral integrity, courtesy, academic excellence, and providing the students with an unshakable commitment to their future, this small (130 students) school is having a significant impact on their young lives.

Surrounded by high quality materials, nice furniture, well-proportioned lively spaces, good acoustics, and strong discipline, they go on to fancy high schools, and eventually to major colleges. They hope some come back as teachers. The four eighth grade girls I met were poised, comfortable shaking hands, engaged, and eager to hear about the architecture—I mentioned that ladies can be architects, too.

The building is Gluck’s manifestation of Hageman’s vision. Its black, white, and grey Trespa façade evokes the diversity of its student body and founders, at the same time as it provides for pedagogical flexibility. The school is supported by a bold-face name board of worthies, who have enabled the construction of the new 27,800 square foot facility, as well as its ongoing support of staff and students. The interior is lively and coherent with accent colors in expensive rubber flooring that was affordable because the building was both designed by Gluck the architect and built by Gluck’s construction arm. Gluck is carving out a space for the master-builder/architect of days gone by—and he’s messianic about it. Just ask him.

-Cynthia Phifer Kracauer

For the info on the tour of tomorrow’s Building of the Day click here: 41 Cooper Square.

Each “Building of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter. For the rest of the month—Archtober—we will write here a personal account about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy. Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture.