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Imagining the Next 50 Years of the Harlem School of the Arts

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Welcome to Architecture 101, a new Curbed column in which writer Henry Melcher shares architecture students' coolest ideas for New York City. Have a project we should see? Drop us a line.


The Harlem School of the Arts, the iconic arts institution, was recently renamed the Harlem School of the Arts at the Herb Alpert Center for the music legend whose foundation provided the school with over $6 million in grants. The funds will go toward debt payments and scholarships, so there are no plans for major upgrades to the school's 70s-era brutalist building designed by Ulrich Franzen. But that hasn't stopped people from dreaming! The school teamed up with graduate students in the Allied Design Studio at Parsons the New School for Design last fall to imagine what the Harlem School of the Arts "[for the] next 50 years" would look like. Have a look above.

In December, after months researching the school's history and meeting with Harlem School faculty, teams of graduate students presented their visions for the building. The plans for new landscaping, bright interiors and an updated theater and café would transform the school from 70's-era brutalism to something closer to tech startup chic.
Included in the proposals are drastic transformations of the school's nearly windowless brick exterior?an original feature that essentially served as a barrier between the school and street. "Our building is sort of hiding itself from the community, which led to its demise because nobody knows we're here, so nobody is going to walk in and take a class," says Yvette Campbell, the school's president and CEO.

For students Rebecca Rand, Stephanie Rodriguez, and Minchul Song, opening the school to the community meant, yes, tearing down that wall. In its place, they propose an inviting and modern exterior of alternating wood slats and glass. Dawn Marie Pollak, Pedro Camara and Noele Deleon, the members of another team, decided to keep the brick, but dissolve it into a screen?or maybe something closer to a curtain?that wraps up and around the building to a newly-sculpted roof. "What we were trying to do, since this is a neighborhood that's in transition, is start to break down that barrier," says Pollak.

The "big visions?pushed the boundaries," as Campbell put it, but they would also push the school's finances, so they aren't likely to move past the drawing board. Unless you're a music legend who happens to like what you see?
? Henry Melcher
· Official site: Harlem School of the Arts [hsanyc.org]