Architects and students collaborate on mall project


By Bonnie Rosenstock

The Hester Street Collaborative, in conjunction with the United Neighborhoods to Revitalize Allen and Pike, is seeking nominations of people and places to be included in the co-naming of Allen St. as Avenue of the Immigrants. Students at M.S. 131 — the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School — who are participating in H.S.C.’s Ground Up Program, are designing a “Sign and Path” installation for the Allen St. medians between Grand and Broome Sts. in collaboration with local community groups.

The project seeks to celebrate a broad range of immigrants, artists, activists, events and even buildings that have contributed to the rich cultural history and diversity of the Lower East Side. The project goal is to spearhead the community-led effort to revitalize the Allen and Pike St. corridors.

“We want to get as much public input as possible about who should be included, not just famous Lower East Side immigrants, but also unsung heroes we wouldn’t be able to tap into without public input,” stressed Anne Frederick, executive director of H.S.C., the nonprofit wing of the architectural firm Leroy Street Studio.

Street signs will be attached to lampposts with student-created artwork that illustrates different places on the Lower East Side. Only a limited number of street signs can be put up, Frederick noted. As the students go through the nominations, they will research and learn about the history and diversity of the community while also drawing upon their own family’s immigrant experiences.

“The students are going to vote on the ones that are most compelling to them. This is also empowering for new immigrants to be made aware of the history of their neighborhood,” said Frederick, 30, a native of Buffalo.

H.S.C. was created eight years ago by Leroy Street Studio’s co-founders, Marc A. Turkel and Morgan Hare, who sit on the eight-person board. The 10-year-old architectural firm first became drawn to community work in 1997 when it was invited to collaborate with East New York Urban Youth Corporation — a Brooklyn-based community development corporation — on the design and fabrication of a new entry lobby and courtyard for a community center and affordable housing project in East New York. They brought in local volunteer artists to work with the future tenants on replacing standard quarry tiles with mosaic tiles and hand-carved clay tiles in the lobby and ferroconcrete and tile sculptural planters in the courtyard.

“We found it a very exciting and rewarding experience,” said the voluble Turkel, 42, originally from Riverdale. “When we went back a few years later, the public spaces were impeccably kept by the people who did the work. They took pride in their place.”

“We loved giving an outlet for people working with us to do different kinds of work, but we realized that in order to make [a project] sustainable, we needed to broaden it and be able to raise money outside. That’s how we came to found Hester Street Collaborative,” added the more mellow Hare, 45, who was born and raised on Leroy St.

Five years ago, the firm, which was originally housed on Leroy St., moved to 113 Hester St., between Eldridge and Forsyth Sts., directly across from M.S. 131. They approached the school about doing a similar kind of program to improve their public areas.

The result was the Wishing Garden, a sculptural garden by the northeast section of the school building, which faces Leroy Street Studio’s wide-windowed meeting room. Students worked in the classroom and in the firm’s basement, which has been set aside as a hands-on workshop. In addition, the studio has given over the entire first floor of their impressively designed airy two-story space to H.S.C.

H.S.C. has since expanded into P.S. 134 on E. Broadway and Grand St., where they are working with fifth graders, initially through their art class, on improving their community garden, which is adjacent to the school. Students studied the conditions of the garden and developed design proposals. Based on their designs, students began construction on a new concrete-and-mosaic planter. This spring, volunteers of all ages are needed to assist in the undertaking. (Call 212-431-6780 for more information.)

“I don’t know of anyone else doing the kind of public-private partnership we’re doing,” Frederick said.

Nominations for people and places to be included in the Avenue of the Immigrants installation will be accepted up to April 19. The results will be posted on May 1. The Web balloting site, www.leroystudio.com/ HSC, is in three languages (English, Spanish and Chinese) and provides a space for comment as to why the place or person is significant. The installation is slated to go up sometime in early June and will stay up for a year.