Childhood in the City – A Design Vision

By Liiz Rahman

The project “Childhood in the City Design Vision”, titled as ‘A Center for Environmental Exploration’, was awarded in an interschool competition between the United States and Russia sponsored by the ADPSR (Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility) organization. The interschool project competition which involved over 300 students and faculty from Universities of United States and Russia. Selected projects were exhibited at the City Without Walls gallery in Newark, New Jersey and at the John Nichols Gallery in Soho, New York.  The joint U.S. and Russia exchange project realized its final goal as eight architectural students and two faculty members were awarded a visit to Russia to attend the exhibition and the seminars held in Moscow and Leningrad. I, as a 2nd year architectural student at the Pratt Institute, was one of the eight winners.

The participants of the contest were set to deal with the concept of environmental exploration for children in the city.  The chosen site was the St. George Hotel area of the East 28th street in Midtown Manhattan.

The project I drew delved into children’s right in urban milieu giving emphasis to Nature. Children’s right to use urban space should facilitate and be identified as their own in the same world with adults. Keeping this in mind, I visualized a structure with features which would allow a child to grow and experience the world outside their home gradually.

The building that I designed grew up from the ground like a mountain to reach a height compatible with its surroundings. The building features massive load bearing concrete walls with natural stone facing, painted metal stairs and railings, earth covered roof terraces, wood sash windows, wood cabinetry, climbing plants, bushes, flowers and sand.

Part of the site is left un-built in order to provide a continuity of the outdoor experience.  It was proposed that the 28th street become a private street “Woonerf” (German word for a semi-private recreational street where only essential traffic is allowed, old folks keep an eye on things, and where familiar faces abound) linking the existing 29th Street garden. Inside the building all the work and play areas are extended by terraces to grow bushes and vegetables, as I thought would be befitting for the children’s surrounding in a crowded neighborhood.  A perfect picture in the design of a project needs to be visualized and felt before it could be built.

The vision (in brief) of the project is a non-school place, bearing in mind that:
The children have the right to use Urban Space; There is only one world for Children and Adults to share; Children should not be excluded from the Practical World; Children need to experience the world gradually and define their own Space.

     A Center for Environmental Exploration for Children 

     A Mountain:  From a Garden grows a Mountain; From a street grows a city

A vacant site in Mid-Manhattan surrounded by masonry buildings left from the late 19th Century.  The South façade along East 28th street faces the St. George Hotel, a welfare hotel, which hopefully will be transformed one day into a proper housing for families who wish to raise their children close to their workplace.  North façade along the East 29th street faces a Church and a Garden.  West side is bounded by tall blank party wall and the East side is bounded by a tall wall punched with narrow vertical windows.

The building grows from the ground up like a mountain to reach a height compatible with its surroundings.  Part of the site is left un-built to provide a continuity of outdoor experiences such as trees, ponds, rabbits, fish, wood, grass linking proposed 28th street “Woonerf” (play street) to the existing 29th street “Garden”.