Practice makes perfect, and for some Parsons students, the Splash House at Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center is a jumping off point for becoming better architects.
Parsons’ Design Workshop, a design-build studio set up 15 years ago to offer practical training to students, has partnered with New York Parks and Recreation Department to instigate a five-year initiative to identify and implement improvements in public spaces across the city. “The architecture students get a more holistic understanding of process,” said Kate McCormick, Press Officer at Parsons. “They actually learn how to make and engage the community, by finding out what it needs.” Although it usually collaborates with public organizations both inside and outside Manhattan, this is the Workshop’s first long-term municipal partnership within New York City. The first assignment: Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center in Upper Manhattan.
The Splash House outdoor pool pavilion includes new lockers, changing rooms and brings the circulation right up to the poolside. This design means that the recreation center can stay open year-round and allows for the center to fulfill its dual functions simultaneously. “This is a community that needs recreation space for the 100,000 to 150,000 community members that use the center,” said Alfred Zollinger, director of Parsons Design Works in a recent interview.
The extension, whose wooden ribs rise and fall to form a wrap of segmented spaces around the pool, has been designed to be flexible and deal with the increased number of pool-goers over the summer with sliding doors fitted in the locker areas to help facilitate more changing rooms. A translucent polycarbonate corrugate rooftop will allow natural light to shine through while providing a sheltered area and, at one end, a water curtain eschews the design as purely functional.
Indeed, the design’s playful and porous nature is also a response to the pool’s historical context. As one of 11 city pools built in 1936—a project commissioned by Robert Moses as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration—the center represents a wider effort to stimulate and improve the quality of life for local communities.
The Design Workshop’s 10 graduate students will be working to complete the pool-side pavilions this summer, which means Splash House will remain a dry house until summer 2012.