Graysen Maxwell Babbitt
Elizabeth Ann Daddazio
Our approach to the 2021Forge Prize is founded on an appreciation for steel as an art medium. Work by artists such as Richard Serra and Donald Judd demonstrate steel’s form-making capabilities and industrial austerity. Our proposal leverages a system of prefabricated steel components as a method of rapid construction. The (prefabricated) plastic forms are submerged below grade, nearly invisible until you’re inside, to preserve the existing greenspace.
The global pandemic, having halted our otherwise highly mobile lifestyles, is underscoring a renewed urgency for localization. Residents of metropolitan areas have seen considerable disruption in collective gathering, where outdoor third-spaces carry the weight of an isolated and immobilized city. [The pandemic] has amplified a need for these spaces throughout the city, as New Yorkers (re)discover ways of hyper-local gathering—the effects of which are certain to remain post-pandemic.
Nearly a quarter of city-owned land is in disuse; our proposal makes use of one such vacant lot on Lenovia Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. We have developed a series of [indoor and outdoor] architectural-scale forms that collectively serve as a community arts center. The selected site addresses a need for publicly accessible cultural spaces in an area far from established museums and institutions. The spaces foster intimacy and return focus to the human scale—serving as a stark contrast to the tower in the park model. Responsible landscaping embraces a low maintenance, organic approach to seasonal planting. Natural shading combined with stable below-grade construction contribute to a minimal approach to operations.
Steel is the natural choice for construction due to its simultaneous strength and pliability. Open courtyards and skylit indoor spaces are lowered below grade to preserve the ground level as a lush park from which these programs emerge; the COR-TEN steel walls of the spaces become expressive surfaces for holding back earth.
The Lenovia Street site serves as a testing ground for a rapidly deployable, “kit-of-parts” style community center which could be scaled to adapt to suitable lots throughout the city. The prefabricated nature of the componentry expedites construction, which becomes particularly valuable when building in New York City.