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Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York by Caples Jefferson Architects PC
November 10th, 2013 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Caples Jefferson Architects PC
Weeksville Heritage Center is a unique urban design project in which a modern architectural syntax of simple forms, strip windows, and glass passageways is impacted by repeated African riffs. The riffs are variations that provide a visual counterpoint. The riffs are embedded in construction, in structural elements, such as the joints in paving and stone, in the choice of colors and materials, and in the details like the fence posts and the frit in the sunshading glass. The modern syntax and African riffs, although independent from each other, harmonize when experienced as an entirety.
The subliminal perceptual stimuli—decoration and sculpture unique to Africa, the architectural ideas of repetition, movement, rhythm, and proportion—are revealed by sunlight. Natural light enriches these riffs by adding shadows, moods, and ever-changing perspectives.
Placed within the historic site of Weeksville Heritage Center and its evocative landscape, the new work redefines the context of Weeksville at this specific time and place.
Weeksville Heritage Center is a sustainable modern building that serves as the gateway to a 19th Century African-American Freedman’s Settlement. In the 1960’s, 4 remaining buildings from this Brooklyn settlement were rediscovered. Through 40 years of impassioned community support, the site eventually grew to serve as a focal African-American heritage site. Weeksville Heritage Center is the latest manifestation of that history coming alive.
The primary purpose of the new structure and landscape is to serve as a gateway to the historic houses on the premises – remnants of the 19th century free African American community of Weeksville – with state-of-the-art exhibition, performance and educational facilities, as well as to provide a green oasis for visitors and the local community. The main lobby will include introductory exhibits, and leads to a gallery for changing shows, a lecture and performance space for 200, classrooms for visiting groups and for community education, and a library resource center for visiting scholars. Administrative offices are to be located on the second floor, and the cellar is to include archival storage space as well as a room for recording oral histories.
The landscape is the dominant element in the composition. This space creates a transitional distance between the historic houses and new center. Movement through the recreated farmland links the present to the past, between the now and the then.
The rolling mown field, and areas of wildflowers evoke the community’s agricultural origins.
The old trail ‘Hunterfly Road’ disappears and reappears before the houses in a ‘ghost landscape’ extrapolated from old maps.
In deference to the historic structures, the building is kept intentionally low, sited to protect the view of the old houses, while providing the broad portal gateway along the old Indian trail to the houses and long open views of the historic site through the transparent corridors.
The building enclosure consists of a composition of wood rainscreen, slate rainscreen, and insulated glass window walls and horizontal ribbon windows. The wood rainscreen consists of specially milled îpe boards, with open joints, attached to aluminum clips over a continuous air barrier. The slate rainscreen consists of 1-1/4” thick custom-cut slate panels mechanically attached to load-bearing metal studs with stone anchors, over a continuous air barrier. The laminated insulated glass roof includes a specially designed frit pattern, echoing African patterns, for solar shading.
The Weeksville Heritage Center organization maintains deep ties to the local community, including the 2400 residents of the neighboring Kingsborough Houses public housing development. During summer months, Weeksville hosts community farmers markets every Saturday and stages a free summer concert and film series. The new building includes a 40,000 square feet open landscaped area for community use. The project site is immediately adjacent to several municipal bus lines, a 10-minute walk to three subway lines, and a 20-minute walk to the nearest regional rail station.
The new building project is targeting a Gold rating under LEED 2.1. The new building’s footprint occupies only about one-fifth of the project site, a rarity within the five boroughs of New York City, allowing the major portion of the site to become open green space.
Buried under this landscape are seven drywells, providing on-site percolation of storm water, and 48 geothermal wells drilled to a depth of 470 feet. The extensive closed-loop geothermal well field serves eleven water-to-air heat pump air handling units, considerably reducing the new building’s reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling.
In keeping with the overall design intention to create an open, accessible community space, all interior spaces are flooded with daylight, providing a multiplicity of views of the historic site and the surrounding neighborhood.
Thus the new building extends the original community’s frugal earth-aware history in a sustainable construction.
A 40-point Building Management System controls the HVAC system and well field. In addition to the energy savings derived from the groundwater-source heat pump system, occupancy sensors are installed throughout the building in order to reduce the power demand of lighting systems. Daylight dimming systems are incorporated in several occupied spaces. According to DOE-2 analysis, the new building’s annual energy costs will be more than 35% less than the baseline.
All storm water drains to a drywall system on the grounds that allows for on-site percolation of all storm water. Low-flow plumbing fixtures are incorporated throughout the building, yielding a potable water use reduction of over 40%.
Tracking of submittals during construction indicated that over 10% of all installed materials consisted of recycled content. Over 20% of all materials were manufactured locally, and 10% was harvested locally. The exterior slate cladding was sourced from a Vermont quarry 250 miles from the project site. Zero- or low-VOC materials and finishes were exclusively employed throughout the building interior.
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