Text description provided by the architects. Campus Nexus + Urban Threshold
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center establishes a new 32,800sf campus nexus for Parsons The New School for Design by uniting and comprehensively re-organizing the street-level spaces of the School's four buildings around a new urban quad. The Center performs as an expansive urban threshold that draws together the School's creative programs and their vibrant Greenwich Village context. New Fifth Avenue and West 13th Street entries connect internally for the first time in the glazed-roof quad and provide access to new state-of-the-art galleries, archives, auditorium, orientation center, student critique zone, and seminar spaces. A continuous thin window lounge encourages students and faculty to occupy the complex's perimeter in a series of deep frames that open up views out to the city and in to student work displayed internally at a monumental scale.
Stripped to expose their substantial concrete and steel structures, the existing building shells provide a raw and varied industrial context for the new, discretely articulated programmatic insertions within. Made possible through the generous gift and vision of Sheila C. Johnson, the Center recognizes the urban context of the institution, reflects The New School's commitment to the new, and places on view to the street the innovative work being produced at the University.
University buildings have been classically organized around campus quadrangles - idyllic open green areas defined on four sides by academic buildings, where circulation paths meet and cross. The four existing buildings that constitute the Parsons campus were not master-planned, but joined in an adhoc way with tenuous circulation links routed through a labyrinth of maintenance functions. A new urban quad unclogs the geographic center of the complex, unifies circulation, and provides a generous, daylit academic/social surface that brings together students and faculty from the School's different design disciplines for the first time. The relocation of maintenance facilities enabled the construction of a new 1,600-square-foot quad enclosed by a glazed roof that provides daylight within and a sky view above, framed by a typical New York composition of back facades and fire escapes. Yellow-poplar bark panels form the east wall of the Quad along the complex's only wood-framed structure, the historic building at 68 Fifth Avenue. A small recess in the bark provides access to a compact, bamboo-lined orientation center for new and prospective students. Two meeting spaces are carved out of the residual areas found within the center: a double-height, glass-enclosed niche adjacent to the Kellen Gallery and a cantilevered, mezzanine-level meeting pod overlooking the quad.
Traditionally, academic campus planning precedes campus building, but here the quad comes 90 years after the buildings were completed - a tactical appropriation of the liminal space between existing buildings.
For a university with a diverse range of academic programs, the issue of identity is complex and for the Johnson Design Center, identity is not so much imposed as it is revealed and staged. LRA worked as designers, but also as planners - setting up opportunities for the students to create an identity for the center through their work. LRA resisted the impulse to represent design through formal maneuvers at the facade, and instead utilized retail tactics to develop infrastructural solutions that place the academic work on display. At the complex's perimeter, a series of new large-panel, deep-set, aluminum-framed windows are shingled in plan (rotated toward the intersection) and tilted out in section (toward the sidewalk) to allow expanded views to and from the street. Window sills that previously formed a barrier between inside and out were removed and new frames were lowered forming an interior/exterior seating sill. These double-sided bay windows encourage students to occupy the facade in a thin study/social zone, which doubles as a perimeter exhibition zone for the display of student work. The primary view is not of the façade, but rather through it, leaving the buildings' terra-cotta and stone frontage substantially intact.
LRA programmed the complex's three existing elevator/stair cores as graphic surfaces for exhibiting Parsons' student work at an urban scale. These graphic pedagogical billboards will be updated periodically with new work drawn from the diverse range of Parsons' art and design programs, including architecture, communication design, digital design, fashion design, fine arts, graphic design, interior design, photography, and product design. Student works may be adapted for installation or conceived specifically as part of a studio curriculum, so that the cores become sites where critical inquiry meets real world conditions. Outcomes can range from the subtle and bodily intimate to the graphically monumental, with each student installation holding the power to alter the space's character and mood. In addition, a new elevator enclosure constructed of aluminum mesh features a digital countdown clock that operates on The New School's three-hour academic cycle, displaying the amount of time remaining before the start of the next session of classes.
To create the new center, the complex's accumulated layers of interior partitioning, plaster ornament and other finishes were carefully stripped away, exposing the buildings' substantial concrete-encased steel structure. The new architectural elements of the Johnson Design Center are articulated as discrete insertions within this exposed raw shell.
The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery operates as a refined container placed within the stripped shell of the 2 West 13th Street historic building-a box-within-a-box. The gallery space completely opens to the street admitting diffuse north light and exposing the gallery's section to the street. Deep within the finished gallery space, the ceiling lifts to visually reconnect with the existing building shell. Eliminating the need for wall outlets inside the gallery, the interstitial space between the finished box and existing shell provides concealed AV access via a continuous floor slot formed at the gallery's perimeter. A maze of ductwork, pipes and conduit (left visible from mezzanine office and prep areas) occupy the space above the box and provide museum-quality air, sprinklers, power, and light to the gallery, all condensed together in a series of narrow slots cut into the gallery ceiling.
The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium is conceived as a bamboo shell situated within an exposed brick structure, which helps control the acoustics of the space. A large opening in the ceiling accommodates AV, lighting and air distribution, and slotted perforations in the side panels moderate the acoustic liveness of the space. A CNC-milled back wall that spells out "Parsons The New School for Design" forms a sound-absorptive graphic surface of medium-density fiber board, and a hard slate wall at the front of the auditorium helps to project the speaker's voice and also functions as a giant chalkboard.
The vertical scale of the existing building is moderated within the Kellen Archives Center by a series of suspended UV-protected fluorescent fixtures. Archival-quality air distribution is exposed in the shadows above, and a continuous perimeter felt liner creates a low, acoustically quiet zone for scholarly research. High density storage units double the Archive's previous capacity.
The renovated Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries along the Fifth Avenue façade have been reconfigured to create a more open and flexible space by increasing the size of the galleries, simplifying their configuration, and incorporating movable display walls. New aluminum hex-panel flooring unifies the space with the rest of the center.