2016 MFE AwardsAffordable: MeritEast Harlem Center for Living and LearningPerkins Eastman Architects
Paúl Rivera East Harlem Center for Living and Learning

Dream big! Developer Jonathan Rose Cos. and architects/designers at Perkins Eastman Architects did, and their creative thinking and collaborative work helped transform an underutilized parking lot and trash compactor area in New York City, where the cost of living seems to rise exponentially.

The neighborhood of Spanish Harlem, where the new development resides, posed additional challenges. The area is witnessing rapid change from gentrification but continues to experience high levels of poverty, juvenile felony arrests, low high school graduation rates, and teen pregnancy. Working together, owner and youth-development nonprofit Harlem RBI and the project team produced the mixed-use East Harlem Center for Living and Learning.

A notable part of the complex is a new charter school for grades K–8 with the inspiring name DREAM. Located at the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 104th Street, it became the first public school in the area in 50 years and was designed to LEED Silver standards. The complex also includes 88 affordable housing units in the 11-story Yomo Toro Apartments section at 222 E. 104th St.; nonprofit offices for Harlem RBI; and a revitalized Blake Park, which had been asphalt-topped and had few trees, deteriorating equipment, and unwelcoming chain-link fencing.

Despite their different purposes, the components of the project share a perky, lively feeling, with lots of glass, brick sheathing, high ceilings, bold colors, and modern furnishings, which help instill pride among residents and lift their spirits.

Kudos for the project have rolled in from the New York chapter of the Urban Land Institute, which cited the center as a model of excellence in mixed-use development.