ARCHITECT: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects — James Greenberg, AIA, managing principal; Raya Ani, AIA, lead designer; Emad Habib, Jo Merriman, project architects
CONSULTANTS: Gilsanz Murray Steficek (structural); Goldman Copeland Associates (m/e/p); The Hirani Group (civil); Shen Milsom Wilke (acoustical); Viridian Energy & Environmental (environmental)
CLIENT: The World Wide Group (owner); New York City Department of Education School Construction Authority (lessee)

SIZE: 50,000 square feet
COST: $30 million

Tile: Daltile
METAL DOORS: Marshfield Door Systems

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CASE STUDY: PS 59 — The Beekman Hill International School, New York City, Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn

By Josephine Minutillo

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PS 59 — The Beekman Hill International School,  New York City
A perforated metal screen provides a protective enclosure for PS 59’s rooftop playground and forms a sunscreen for the south facing clerestory windows in the gym.
Photo: © Arch Photo

Nothing about the design of ps 59 was by the book. The K-5 school’s temporary new home inside a former hospital annex building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is the result of a unique public-private partnership between the developer, The World Wide Group, and New York City’s School Construction Authority (SCA). They hired Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (EE&K), a firm originally founded as a school practice. It skillfully transformed the 1917 Italianate structure, unoccupied since 2000, into a cheerful learning environment for PS 59’s students until renovations to its permanent building, located just a few blocks farther downtown, are completed and a different school can move in. It’s a complex juggling act that is becoming a familiar tactic as New York City’s student population rapidly exceeds the amount of space available for it.

Adapting a school program to a building designed as a nurses’ residence proved a considerable challenge. But the architects converted diminutive dormitory rooms into flexible classrooms with areas for small group learning; and narrow, fixed corridors into lively circulation zones with nooks for storage and informal breakout spaces. “We saw an opportunity in the existing shell,” says EE&K’s James Greenberg, AIA. “And we were not willing to make any compromises.”

The greatest challenge, though, came in locating the gymnasium, which doubles as the auditorium. The decision to put it on the top floor above five levels of classrooms necessitated robust structural and acoustical interventions. Existing interior columns throughout the floor were removed, and perimeter columns and transfer beams added in their place. Spring isolators installed between a new concrete slab and the wood floor and subfloor deaden noise and vibrations.

By including a rooftop playground — confined, in this case, to an area between small towers that originally housed a pergola — EE&K offers a nod to New York City’s grand public schools designed under Charles B.J. Snyder at the turn of the 20th century. Similar to those schools, the playground here is shielded by a decorative screen, which provides a protective enclosure for the children at play and adds a bold design element to the historic exterior. The facade itself was cleaned and pointed, and its windows replaced with ones that use insulated glass with low-E coatings to reduce heating and cooling loads.

That EE&K was able to squeeze a full program — including a large basement cafeteria and ground-floor offices, and a community room — into a tight building envelope within a dense urban site is a feat in itself; that it got done in eight months — from start of construction to opening day of classes — is almost unheard of. But it didn’t stop there. PS 59 is the first school in New York City to achieve compliance with the SCA’s demanding set of sustainable design standards. In addition to a 42 percent reduction in water consumption, PS 59 has no boilers. It is heated with district steam produced as a by-product of electrical generation.
While those facts might go unnoticed by the school’s young occupants, the revitalized building’s playful character and colorful spaces provide the students with a bright and boisterous setting in which to learn and grow.


The screen’s undulating red and orange bands add a playful element to the historic facade and restore the building’s original profile by replacing a demolished pergola that once stood atop the former nurses’ residence. (top); Existing conditions constrained the width of corridors. Bold color accents add rhythm by tying together ceiling lighting fixtures, walls, and the floor tile pattern (middle); To locate the gymnasium on the top floor, columns were removed and transfer beams introducedThe gym floor is supported by springs to minimize noise into classrooms below (bottom).
Photos: © Arch Photo

The school’s 22 classrooms have movable furniture to allow teachers flexibility in organizing classes. (top); A small, glazed entrance lobby leads to offices, a community room, and classrooms on the ground level (bottom).
Photos: © Arch Photo

1) Classroom 2) Administrative 3) Cafeteria 4) Courtyard 5) Gymnasium 6) Playground 7) Mechanical