Students from WHSAD took part in a trip to Staten Island on Saturday, March 26th, to see the sites of different projects they have been working on since last school year. The sites students visited during the tour included the Tompkinsville Esplanade, Downtown Staten Island, Richmond Terrace Esplanade, and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths Skyline Community Garden. Many of the students had the opportunity to view their project locations for the first time in person and gained a better understanding of the respective site on which they’re designing a proposal. In addition to touring their sites, students heard from H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths co-founder and long-time WHSAD partner, Heather Butts, about the sites.
In this comment from Heather Butts, she shares her thoughts on students being able to visit the sites in person during this trip in contrast to working on it online for the last year and a half.
“It has been rewarding to work with the WHSAD students on the Staten Island Makerspace project. We have been doing similar work in Lake Como, NJ for several years. This project took place mainly online during the pandemic. To see the students be able to visit sites on March 26, 2022, that many have only seen through pictures and descriptions from our partners, was gratifying. Thank you to the partner organizations working with the students and I look forward to the architectural and design reimagining of these Staten Island sites.”
From the students in attendance, some were willing to provide their perspective of the trip in addition to how it helped them.
Amelia Velez, WHSAD Junior
On Saturday March 26th, 2022 students affiliated with wide-ranging WHSAD internship opportunities enjoyed a site visit to understand where their project was taking place. This particular site visit focused on projects located in Staten Island, ranging from redesigning a walking path to redesigning a kiosk (my project). Although the majority of students only were working on around 1-2 projects in the area, students were encouraged to take photos and record the areas where all the projects were located.
I found this particular trip interesting due to my lack of knowledge on the borough. I personally have rarely found myself in Staten Island and in general often regard it as the “Forgotten Borough”. Although the borough is still regarded as a borough of NYC, people often avoid traveling to Staten Island because there are limited ways of getting there, except by car, or ferry and it is still a heavily industrialized area. One thing however that I noticed while on the trip was the amount of renovations and projects that were either currently underway or were planned to take place in the near future. The area of Staten Island had a load of potential and citizens who deeply cared about the land; it was just lack of funding and the lack of investors that caused Staten Island to be ignored.
With a new understanding of the layout of Staten Island and what life was like there, I was able to get a deeper understanding of the project that I was assigned. I was able to understand the environment my project was located in and was able to get a different perspective of the land in front of me rather than only seeing the area from Google Maps-where the kiosk site is barely visible. I also have a better understanding of what the people living in the area are like and how they want their community to look rather than how my peers or I want the area to look.
This insight to a project I find extremely important and helpful while designing a building. It helps designers avoid feeling intrusive and helps create work people actually feel proud of. If you simply design a building of your own desire and have no communication with your clients, then whatever you design can end up doing more harm than good for them.
Matthew Zaczeniuk, WHSAD Junior
The Staten Island Projects are a group of ongoing projects that take place every year in the WHSAD Makerspace. Although not all of them do, the projects mostly focus on restoring many of the damaged areas in the northeast towns of Staten Island. These areas were hit the hardest years ago when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the eastern coast and have been in a state of disrepair since. Recently, stakeholders and other groups partnered with WHSAD to turn these ruined areas into projects for opportunities, education, and learning experiences. The projects’ main goals are to restore the respective locations whilst also teaching students a wide variety of skills. These projects foster out-of-the-box thinking to solve the problems of the given area and force the teams working on each project to think wider and more boldly about the solutions they could implement.
As someone who worked on one of these projects, I can confidently say that these projects are a gem of an opportunity, but that’s not to say they are easy. These projects are difficult to tackle in many ways because they require you to be proficient in different soft skills and hard skills, but they provide the perfect environment to develop these skills if members are not already comfortable with them. I went through this process last year when working on the St. George Wayfinding and Signage project and I am glad I took the opportunity. Some of the most valuable skills I learned were public speaking, presentation skills, communication skills between team members and my stakeholders, and learning how to use AutoCAD. These projects have been providing students with learning opportunities for years, and this year is no different with the exception being that we have the opportunity to take in-person site visits.
We arrived in Staten Island and made our first stop at the Tompkinsville esplanade. We then moved up towards St. George, visiting the National Lighthouse Museum on the way. After that, we went further up towards the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade Park and visited the Vacant lot project. Finally, we traveled to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden which was our final stop. There we got to eat lunch and explore the center and visit its renowned Chinese Scholar’s Garden. We finally left around 1:30 and concluded our trip to Staten Island.
After going on the trip I realized that although last year’s projects turned out to be great, there is an aspect of seeing what a site looks like and its surroundings to be invaluable to a project’s outcome. Seeing each site individually made me and most of my peers see the gravity of the situation in a way that photos, videos, or documents never could. I think the most profound site was the Tompkinsville esplanade because being there and seeing the damage and the state of disrepair the area was currently in not only allowed us to sympathize with the locals’ experience but also understand what could be done to the area and better define the scope of work and what goals needed to be achieved to bring this area back to life.
Going on this trip was not only fun but helped my peers and I realize the importance of our projects and the gravity of the situation each area was currently dealing with. Getting to see each project site felt almost personal to me because it was the first time I was able to understand the projects on a deeper level. Visiting Snug Harbor for the first time was also a great experience and being able to walk through the bamboo forest and into the Chinese Scholar’s Garden felt almost magical. Overall, I loved the trip and I’m glad that this year’s students are able to use the most important resource available to them which is the sites themselves.
Waylon Gomori, WHSAD Sophomore
Site 1 is on the waterfront of Staten Island, facing Brooklyn. It is a boat dock yard that is old and run down. The idea is for the site to be cleaned up and renewed into something better than an old run-down boat dock; however, I’m not entirely sure what the exact plan is. The site is decent sized, and there are lots of possibilities and room to play with. I’m excited to see what comes out of it.
Site 2 is a long concrete/asphalt walkway on the side of the road. I’m not sure what the idea for the second site is, it’s just an nondescript asphalt-looking walkway. Maybe 15 ft. across, next to the road. I’m assuming that the project for that site is making it look better, and maybe adding some usage to it.
Site 3 is my group’s site. Our main project is an old bocce ball court that has been turned into a garden. We were tasked with adding a way to collect water for the garden, and with collecting it, connecting it to an irrigation system for the plants. The full site that we are looking at is a large grass field, which can easily fit 2 or 3 houses. We don’t have much room around the bocce ball count, so our structure has to be compact, yet retractable and structurally sound. We’ve brainstormed multiple ideas, both for the garden and the larger site. Right now, the garden is our top priority. We want to get 3 to 5 good ideas to propose to the stakeholder. Once we have our ideas done for the garden, we will move on to the bigger field and start brainstorming ideas for areas in it, such as a dog run, community place, etc. There is a lot of potential for this site.
Site 4 was very interesting. The actual project is redesigning an information booth, making it more easily accessible, making it more understandable for anyone on the grounds, and making it more spacious inside for the workers when they are on duty. It also has to be used when there aren’t people there to guide visitors. The grounds include multiple buildings and fields, along with some gardens and a Chinese Scholar Garden. This garden included a Chinese-style temple, with lots of ponds and trees, blooming with flowers. It also includes a mini bamboo forest that visitors can walk through. We may or may not have had a mini sword fight with some dead bamboo. The whole area around the site was a fun and interesting place to be.
Richard Hernandez, WHSAD Junior
Working on the Richmond Terrace Esplanade last year was a great work experience. I learned so much from it and am happy to be working on it again. However, working remotely did have its limitations. I found it difficult to imagine the scale of the area and thought that I had little space to work with. Because of this, I limited my imagination and thought that there wouldn’t be space to fit any of the ideas that I had in mind. Even so, I felt that I did a great job with the restrictions I set myself with.
Coming back to this project a year after working on it was refreshing. I had a whole new team and with that, a ton of new ideas were being thought of. Nonetheless, the thought still remained in my mind that the esplanade was too small to fit most of the ideas we had. It also didn’t help that when we met with our stakeholder she mentioned that she wanted the area to remain ADA accessible and have space for people with disabilities to pass through comfortably. This condition put a stop to our idea of implementing a mini playground on the esplanade since we thought that it would make the area more narrow.
Thankfully with this trip to visit the sites on Staten Island, I was finally able to get a sense of how big the esplanade actually was, and it made me realize that there was actually plenty of space to implement the ideas that we had in mind. For instance, our idea of building a playground on the esplanade now seemed possible and didn’t seem like it would interfere with the stakeholder’s wish for the esplanade to remain ADA accessible. Additionally, since the esplanade was bigger than I had imagined, it also led to us coming up with more ideas like the addition of a pavilion. Visiting our site gave me a whole new perspective on the project and made me think about how the placement of the statue, dedicated to Robbins Reef Lighthouse operator, Katherine Walker, would affect the flow of movement throughout the area. Overall the trip to Staten Island was beneficial and broadened our view of what we could do with the project and I’m glad that I was able to visit the site in person for the first time after a year and a half of working on the project.