Emerging from the bulky tan and textured concrete Sephardic Community Center (SCC) in South Brooklyn is a modest new glass- and light-filled expansion. With it, BKSK Architects has shown the 30-year-old center of Syrian and Middle Eastern Jewish history and culture a way to be a bit more extroverted and inviting to the neighborhood of brick homes and apartments near it on Ocean Parkway.
The existing center was “inward-looking,” said partner-in-charge Joan Krevlin, reflected in that split-face concrete-and-glass-block facade. With the glass block replaced with transparent glass, Krevlin said, “The addition is about community, and housing different generations under one roof.” The new modern core is visible after entering though a fritted-glass entryway that lifts the eye up four stories. Called “Heritage Hall,” the core includes a stairway that connects almost everything: the new gym, fitness centers, classrooms, and social nooks. The stairway wall is clad in glass displaying hundreds of pictures of family members that emigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East, many from as far back as the 1930s.
The building pulses with life: In the morning, men fill the new fitness center, women swim laps in the pool, children attend preschool, seniors play cards in the social room, and loud teens hang out in the lounges that are scattered throughout. The new meeting spaces are sometimes co-opted by dance lessons, and teenagers run around the excess of spaces designed for their use. “The volume is high,” said SCC Chief Executive Officer Moises Paz. “But the new spaces are elegant.”
In order to connect more to the community, BKSK designed “dedicated space” for each group, and design helps to delineate different groups and uses, said David Kubik, who managed the project with project architect Julia Nelson. While much of the core and exercise facilities are clean and modern-white, the social spaces have touches of color, the preschool area is decorated with cheerful watercolor art, and other areas feature wood and vibrant Middle Eastern fabrics.
In 2007, BKSK Architects finished the celebrated Queens Botanic Garden Visitor’s Center to express the Garden’s mission: to be stewards of the environment. In so doing, a bold architectural vocabulary for sustainability was employed. The new Sephardic Community Center—while also using energy-saving features that include daylighting, multi-zone heating and cooling, and bamboo floors—derives its key mission from the institution: to preserve community. By contrasting the old and new, it forms a timeline in concrete and glass.