Archtober Building of the Day 22> The Educational Alliance by PBDW Architects

Archtober Building of the Day 22> The Educational Alliance by PBDW Architects

The Educational Alliance
197 East Broadway, Manhattan
PBDW Architects

As the population of Manhattan‘s Lower East Side (LES) has shifted over the past 126 years, the Educational Alliance’s programs have evolved to meet the needs of a changing community. Still close to its roots as a settlement house that helped Jewish immigrants acclimate to the United States (and with mezuzahs on the doors to show for the continued ties with Judaism), the alliance serves the entire community, across age, race, ethnicity, and income level.

In the mid-2000s, the Educational Alliance came to PBDW Architects, asking them to install a second elevator into their LES headquarters—the solitary one by the entrance to the 1890 building wasn’t cutting it anymore. Instead, the firm developed a master plan that would unite the original building with its two annexes that had been added in the 1920s and ’50s.

Leonard Leung began today’s Archtober tour with an overview of the master plan’s goals—to improve circulation in a suite of buildings serving many different programmatic functions, and to ensure that the architecture enforced the Educational Alliance’s mission of welcoming the entire community. A continuous ceiling plane extends along the entrance hallway to the exterior of the building, where it cantilevers over the front door to draw visitors inside. Small details, like a bamboo bench set into the wall, activate the entry area and give plenty of room for parents and caregivers to mingle during drop-off and pick-up.

Head Start programs occupy most of the first three stories. Joe Tarver, operations director of the Manny Cantor Center (as the alliance’s flagship building is called), told us about frequent visits from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Buildings, and FDNY. Head Start has strict regulations for student-to-teacher ratios, as well as for the physical classrooms and support spaces for its programs. The LEED Silver building fulfills all of these requirements, although a set of cubbies recently had to be bumped out of a classroom and into a hallway to meet per student square footage allotments.

The sounds of pounding feet in the 5th-floor gym are insulated from the senior center and executive offices below by a jack slab concrete floor system. Springs absorb vibrations so that they don’t carry down through the rest of the building. A top-floor multipurpose room with views of Lower Manhattan, which was added during the renovation, is rented out for private events.

The space was busy at 11:30 this morning, as seniors streamed in for the daily $1.50 lunch, but we were assured that this was nothing compared to the crowds that come out for salmon day, when 100 or more senior foodies flock to the building for a favorite meal. As Tarver told us, “It’s not just bingo anymore” that draws this community to the Educational Alliance.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit St. Mark’s Bookshop.

Julia Cohen is the Archtober Coordinator at the Center for Architecture.