This past spring, New York City’s Architecture for Humanity chapter (AFHny) partnered with Parsons School of Continuing Education in the spirit of volunteerism to offer a design studio for high school students. Under the tutelage of Parsons teacher, Nick Brinen, and several AFHny volunteers, the students developed concepts for two park shelters located at the entrances of the soon-to-be-reopened High Bridge. Having gained real-world experience and an appreciation for public service, we weren’t surprised to hear that several of the participating students earned scholarships for various design majors at Parsons, FIT, and Pratt. Read on to learn more about their designs!

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The students’ assignment was to re-evaluate the needs of the two existing shelters located at each side of High Bridge — a pedestrian bridge that connects Manhattan and the Bronx across the Harlem River. The bridge has been closed since 1970, but thanks to the support of Mayor Bloomberg, is expected to re-open after extensive renovations. Currently, a public pool and Highbridge Park are located on the Manhattan side and a residential neighborhood on the Bronx side.  The re-opening of the bridge is intended to increase public waterfront access, and the shelters are hoped to become centers of community life.

Every Saturday morning from the beginning of February to the end of April, the students participated in a design studio with AFHny volunteer to develop designs for the park shelters. Although shepherded through the design process by their mentors, all the students were expected to perform all tasks necessary to complete their designs, from studying the site, to developing their concept, to presenting their final designs. In April, six students completed the program, creating a variety of design concepts that are featured below.

Dane Clarke

Dane wanted to create a space that would optimize views outwards. He chose to replace the existing shelters’ stone walls with glass to create a more contemporary and inviting space for gathering. With two levels of flexible, open space, the top level offers visitors an elevated deck to reflect on the Harlem River and the bridge.

Esteban Vargas

Esteban was most concerned with creating a design that could provide functionality and flexibility. His design includes movable walls that allow the shelters’ interior to easily transform from being one large room to several smaller rooms, and back again — creating a structure that the surrounding communities can use for a variety of different purposes.

Veronica Acebedo

Veronica  wanted to create a successful program and design for the shelters that responds to contemporary trends. Her idea was to create a modern media market — proposing that the shelter have two levels that could provide space for different programs with a tech theme. The upper level is a performance space, while the lower level provides flexible programming for the day and evening. During the day, the lower level hosts an indoor market and cafe, and at night, becomes a classroom for technology and computer animation classes.

Chasity Colon

Chasity’s design tackled the original shelter’s box-like form. In order to make the shelter both a destination point and place for rest, she decided that the form needed to open up to allow for pedestrians to pass through. The space’s program includes a snack bar and cafe, gift shop, water fountain, restroom, and exhibition on High Bridge’s history.

Ye Yan

Interested in promoting public participation through design, Ye proposed a space where the form and space available would be determined by its users. The shelter’s interior is occupied with multi-functional furniture designed to be used in a variety of ways through simple flips or pulls. The shelter’s transformative character is completed with a roof that can be opened for sunny weather.

Mark Gonsalves

Mark’s design reflects his belief that the shelter’s location provides a perfect spot to sit and gaze. He wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere for observation and felt that in order to achieve this, gazers should be separated from the flow of pedestrians crossing the bridge. His design includes an upper level with a seating area and a lower level for pedestrians to pass through.

AFHny volunteers included: Debashree Karnik, Graig Donnelly, Jabari Garland, Jeeyong An, Nagi Alamri, Nico Pallotto, Molly Lawenda, Rita Saikali

+ Parsons Continuing Education

+ Architecture for Humanity, New York City Chapter