Parsons Students Transform an Aging Rec Center

A team of architecture students overhauls a recreation center in Manhattan, creating a year-round facility with ample space for visitors.

The Highbridge Recreation Center in Washington Heights, Manhattan, is celebrating the results of a four-year collaboration between the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and graduate students and professors at Parsons The New School of Design. As part of Parsons's Design Workshop, which contributes towards the completion of the MA Architecture degree, more than 40 participants have been involved with overhauling the 80-year-old center.

Making good use of class time proves to make good use of park space, too. Constructed in 1936 as one of 11 city pools built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Highbridge began its overhaul on the outside. An outdoor pavilion called "Splash House" permits use of the facility year-round by creating locker and changing space specifically designated for the pool. Before, two wings of gymnasium space had to be converted into changing rooms to accomodate swimmers' needs three months a year.

Enclosing the breezeway that separates the North and South wings was the architects' next phase. The new space contains an ample lobby, flanked by office areas and a computer resource room. Further improvements include a new fitness room with cardio and strength equipment, rubberized flooring and wall padding for the gym, and upgrades on the light and HVAC system. 

Alfred Zollinger, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Interior Design in the School of Constructed Environments, noted, "the historic buildings located in an underserved neighborhood" offered "a good chance for our students' work to really engage [with the urban environment] in a positive way." Sustainability was also key. Enclosing the vestibule, according to Zollinger, not only "increased the activity within the building," it also "made sure the cost and resources of heating and cooling were not wasted." 

Highbridge isn't the final leg of the Deparment of Parks and Recreation's collaboration with Parsons—the two have also begun refurbishing the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn, a landmarked facility that hasn't received any significant updates since the mid-80s.

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