Archtober Building of the Day #12: Betances Community Center

East
The Betances Community Center in the Bronx (Courtesy Stephan Yablon Architect)

The Betances Community Center in the Bronx (Courtesy Stephan Yablon Architect)

When is a Center really a center? Well first of all it’s got to have a center, don’t you think? The Betances Community Center has a splendid gym holding strong in the middle of the plan, full of warm, white light modulated by the south-facing glass block wall and monitor side walls of Kalwall. Originally intended to house a boxing ring and bright orange bleacher seating, the space is now multi-purpose with the bleachers accordioned to the walls; the famous boxing program moved elsewhere. Even without the ring, the architecture packs a wallop of clarity, modesty, attention to detail, and programmatic resolution.

The gym interior at Betances.

The gym interior at Betances.

So much transparency is rare for community center projects, says architect Stephen Yablon, AIA, principal of Stephen Yablon Architect. He credits David Burney, FAIA, his then client at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for establishing the clear statement of values and goals for the center. Built in an area challenged by crime, the large areas of glass would seem to invite the errant brick. Quite the contrary: the very high quality of the design has engendered unusual respect for the facility. This is a community center with a community that has found identity in the architectural expression of its public amenity. Now filled with after school programs, performing arts, art classes, and fitness, the Betances Center has had only one broken pane, and that one was inside. It’s all proof positive of the power of architecture to bring out the best in us.

Click here for tour info on tomorrow’s Building of the Day: New York Public Library Francis Martin Branch.

Each “Building of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter. For the rest of the month—Archtober—we will write here a personal account about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy. Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture.

Read more at www.archtober.org/blog.

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