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East Harlem Community Center Elevates Youth

East Harlem Community Center Elevates Youth

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The nationally recognized design and architecture firm Andrew Franz Architect has announced a much-anticipated reimagining of the Washington Houses Community Center in New York City, creating a sunny and art-filled environment for the firm’s repeat client, the successful nonprofit community organization Union Settlement.

Completely transformed from the original structure built more than 60 years ago, the new, 11,00-square-foot youth and senior center brings together the East Harlem community it serves in a state-of the-art, visually impactful and gracious setting. Modernized classrooms, welcoming offices, and bright, open public spaces are fitted out with brand-new infrastructure and lighting. The enhanced experience epitomizes Union Settlement’s engaging learning atmosphere and the creativity and warmth essential to its service mission. Funded by the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the new, one-story center delivers on its mission to serve as a powerful magnet for area teens and seniors alike.“We are extremely proud of this collaboration with Union Settlement and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and grateful for their support of our vision of a new center and community touchstone that not only fulfills their rich program offerings but also creates a welcoming, bright and open experience for East Harlem residents,” says architect Andrew Franz, AIA, founder of Andrew Franz Architect. “It’s our hope that with this extensive redesign and the wonderful works by East Harlem artists, the center will offer a source of pride and inspiration for the youth and seniors it serves, long into the future.”

Welcoming all to the new center, an enlarged glass-clad entry was transformed from a formerly hard-to-find, dark opening into an easily accessible and hospitable invitation to come inside. Through the doors, an expanded reception area full of natural light from new skylights opens to a multiuse space with stepped bleacher-style wood seating with pops of brightly colored art and finish accents, an ideal spot to meet and mingle. This fresh, positive start then extends to various function rooms, including the library, education center, classrooms, and computer lab, plus the senior center by the entry lounge, offices, and services with varied opportunities for Union Settlement to serve its different constituencies. Colorful and exuberant, the community center presents work by local artists, such as East Harlem artist Kristy McCarthy’s mixed-media art installation “Welcome Home” which features images and patterns representing the diverse ethnicities and rich history of the neighborhood.The center offers a new skylight and enlarges windows that draw in natural daylight and creating enhanced views of the trees and greenery outdoors. Throughout the building, glass partition hallways offer ample openness and views between staff members and visitors improving Union Settlement’s team communications and client safety while encouraging friendly interactions.Welcoming new designs for the facility’s classrooms, conference areas, and workrooms transformed the spaces from cramped quarters into spacious, bright and modern learning zones. All furnished with new light-toned wood tables and desks, along with colorful chairs — and new electrical and mechanical systems — the stage is set for community and staff engagement, comfort, and productivity.
“Union Settlement is thrilled to see the Washington Houses Community Center transformed into such an amazing space, and we are delighted to now welcome children, youth, adults and seniors back into this wonderful new space,” said David Nocenti, executive director of Union Settlement, when it opened. “We are grateful to Andrew Franz Architect for the firm’s innovative design that will provide an open and airy space for the East Harlem community to enjoy for years to come.”
At its ribbon-cutting, Gale A. Brewer, Borough President of Manhattan, extended her appreciation directly to the architect Franz, saying, “It’s a beautifully designed space where youth and seniors can grow, learn, and develop.”With the new design by Andrew Franz Architect, the Washington Houses Community Center supports the advancement of Union Settlement’s legacy of community service in exceptional style, helping promote productive futures through youth programs and ensuring older citizens enjoy long-lasting quality of life through its robust senior center.
Along with Andrew Franz Architect, the project team included the contractor SPK | Lewis; the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing firm Plus Group Consulting Engineers; the cost estimator Ellana Inc., code consultant JMV Associates; and Design One Lighting Design. Other contributors included muralist Alice Mizrachi, installation artist Kristy McCarthy, and art consultant Angel Bellaran. About Andrew Franz ArchitectFounded in 2003, Andrew Franz Architect PLLC is an award-winning architecture and design studio based in New York City. With projects ranging from private residences to hospitality venues, workplaces, and facilities for cultural and nonprofit organizations, the studio creates thoughtfully detailed, highly functional spaces with a rich, yet modern sensibility. With a professional staff including architects, LEED-accredited professionals, and interior designers, the firm promotes an open, collaborative studio environment that shares original ideas and proven building practices. Andrew Franz Architect’s rigorous, client-focused design process favors engagement, craft, and inventiveness. The resulting solutions are timeless and fresh, modern and urbane, across a broad portfolio of new construction, urban and rural additions, interior renovations, historic restorations, and master plans for civic spaces and parks. AFA’s primary goal is to create designs with a positive impact on people, communities and the environment. For more, see


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