El Museo del Barrio
1230 5th Avenue
Designer: Gruzen Samton Architects
Splashes of lime green and neon orange enliven upper Museum Mile with the recent reopening of El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street and 5th Avenue. Reinventing the museum's longtime home in a former orphanage, Gruzen Samton Architects transformed a forbidding brick facade and dark foyer with a glazed entry offering glimpses of a colorful new lobby within. White walls and a ceiling of white ash slats provide a clean backdrop for lime-colored doors that lead into the museum's theater, and for the glowing orange resin framing the ticket desk and gift shop. The new design references Latin architectural vocabulary, explained partner Jordan Gruzen, pointing out the wall of Brazilian ipe hardwood and a front courtyard that acts as a public-private gradient in the manner of a traditional Latin American veranda. A metal canopy wraps around the courtyard, serving as both a pylon for the museum's banner and as a bench for visitors. To allow art and dining to spill outside during warm weather, the architects raised the original below-grade courtyard to be flush with the entrances to the gallery and cafe. “We expect this space to become a real gathering place for East Harlem,” Gruzen said.