Saratoga Avenue Community Center+-

project name : Saratoga Avenue Community Center

location : Brooklyn, New York

year of design: 2000

client: New York City Housing Authority, David Burney, Director of Design

architect: George Ranalli

associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer; George Langer Mechanical Engineer; Stephen Falk, Specifications; Joe Di Bernardo, Lighting

design team: Mario Gentile, Hayden Marrero, Hollace Metzger, Oliver Calderari, Brock Danner, Price Harrison, Fran Leadon, Nadia Ostrovsky, Kimberlae Saul, Texer Nam

photographer: Paul Warchol

A community expressed interest in a facility of excellent design to accommodate civic events, parties, and education and arts programs. The project, sponsored by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), would remodel 1,500 square feet of ground-floor space in the 16-story Saratoga Village Apartments building and add a new, 3,500 square-foot facility as an all-purpose community space with commercial kitchen, bathrooms, director’s office, and other amenities.

The Saratoga Community Center posits an alternative to the contemporary lament that public architecture built by public agencies inevitably yields bland, stark buildings remote to occupants. This project transforms a solitary housing block into a residential housing complex of elegance and distinction. The orientation and design of the new building,
the redesign of the ground floor of the existing high-rise tower, and the surrounding landscaping work together to brighten the formerly bleak apartment-block environs.

At the eastern end of the site, a newly designed hallway connects the apartment tower to the new community center; the adjacency frames the grounds in a sheltering street wall. A smaller volume in the new community center, for the director’s office, balances the composition to the west. The design elements define two inviting outdoor spaces,
one bordering Hancock Street and the other outside the community center’s main entrance. In a metrical progression from either the street or the adjoining apartment building, visitors pass through a compact entryway into the soaring, 23-foot-high main space. There an expanse of hardwood floor, buff-white walls, and large mahogany-framed clerestory
windows compel the view upward. A ubiquitous adjustment of scale and ornamentation frame the atmosphere of any activity or special occasion occurring within the space.

The design may look expensive but is as economical as it is beautiful. The total project, including site preparation, landscaping, and actual construction, met NYCHA’s customary expenditure limits while heeding NYCHA guidelines that prohibit low windows and prescribe bulletproof glass. An exterior material palate of speckled roman brick over a limestone base connects comfortably to the tan brick of the existing housing block, while contrastive materials, transparencies, and densities invigorate the site. Innovative construction strategies, such as the use of precast concrete sections surrounding recessed, mahogany-framed window and doorways, cost no more than featureless brick and stainless steel. Similarly, the buff-white plaster interior walls are lined with superstrong, easily replaced, decorative panels that provide protection from daily wear and tear while providing a play of reflections that echoes the rhythm of the daylight hours with variations of light, and at night responds to the delicate interior-lighting design that fills the room with sparkle.

Saratoga Community Center represents the contemporary architectural application of traditional allusions to communal space. Its design, as the old phrase goes, began in delight and ended in wisdom. On budget and in balance, its golden-brown masonry and interwoven mahogany frame windows and doorways emit the vibrant composure proper to a public work of architecture.