The sharp-edged, red building that Ennead Architects designed for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is meant to ease overcrowding and elevate the experience of the families in crisis who are seeking help there. The intake and evaluation center—the facility is not a shelter, and contains no beds—replaces a two-story building that served the community and the department’s clients poorly. It was so cramped that many individuals waited outside, which fostered loitering, a long time community concern.
“The new intake facility will instill efficiency and collaboration as families move through the application process, ensuring families are assisted courteously and professionally when they seek shelter,” said DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond in a statement. “We will continue the transformation of the families system through this new building.” The previous building was so inefficiently laid-out that it took an average of 20 hours to process a family through the various service agencies that share the building, including the Department of Education, Administration of Children’s Services, and the Office of Legal Affairs. In the new building, processing time has been cut down to an average of six hours.
Working on a constrained site, Ennead worked closely with DHS and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to best distribute those services in a larger, but more vertical building. Each floor has an open plan with a large reception area, and agencies are placed in the building sequentially, according to typical patterns of need, so that not all clients are required to pass through the entire building.
Ennead sought to make the building pleasant for both clients and agency employees, with generous use of daylighting and light-sensitive photo-shading, features that also help conserve energy. “They worked hard to use energy performance strategies that also create amenities,” said David Resnick, Deputy Commission at DDC. A second floor waiting room, for example, overlooks a green roof. “It offers a moment of respite,” Resnick said. The building also features a massive rainwater retention tank that refills the building’s cooling tower. The center is expected to receive LEED Silver or Gold certification.
Wrapped in a red terra-cotta rain screen made by NBK Ceramic, with two shades of randomly alternating red tiles with integrated sun louvers, the 76,000-square-foot building makes a bold but context-sensitive statement in its Bronx neighborhood. “The area transitions from more formal brick buildings on the Grand Concourse to more industrial buildings,” said Guy Maxwell, an associate partner at Ennead. “We used terra-cotta because it has a warmth to it. Families come here in crisis. We wanted to dignify the experience as much as possible.”
“Working with Ennead was very positive,” Resnick said. “This project is a great example of how architects can open up a client’s program and turn limitations into great architecture.” As for the looks of the building: “It’s very crisp, very forward-looking.” And that is a great first impression for an agency tasked with helping families turn their lives around.