Betances Community Center

Betances Community Center is a beacon for the South Bronx.

A new model for community centers in public housing projects significantly improves the quality of life for residents and enhances urban vitality. The building is emphatically public: open to its neighborhood, focused on expansive communal spaces, and expressive of its importance to the community. The center is organized around a light-filled interior courtyard, connected visually and spatially to the street through a wide glass entry. The courtyard is flanked by classrooms, game rooms, administrative spaces, and a 200-seat multipurpose room. The centerpiece is a luminous, 3-story glass-enclosed multi-purpose gymnasium, home of a famed youth boxing program and a symbol of community pride.

The creative joining of two existing structures in the South Bronx, the lower floor of a housing tower and a bleak one-story basketball gymnasium in a former warehouse, created a new 27,000 sf facility. The center is now the focal point of community life and is filled with people of all ages participating in classes, athletic activities, and community functions. Members of this community exclaim that the open and light-filled facility provides a safe place for youth and the high-quality architecture engenders a strong sense of ownership, pride, and hope.

A dramatic light-filled box inserted into a low buidling
A dramatic light-filled box inserted into a low buidling
A welcoming beacon to the community
A welcoming beacon to the community
The main entry is a highly public connection between the street and the activities inside
The main entry is a highly public connection between the street and the activities inside
The main space is dramatically revealed
The main space is dramatically revealed
The 3-story light-filled fitness gym is the centerpiece of the building. Transparency allows people to see the full range of activities that occur throughout.
The 3-story light-filled fitness gym is the centerpiece of the building. Transparency allows people to see the full range of activities that occur throughout.
The building was designed to house a celebrated youth boxing program
The building was designed to house a celebrated youth boxing program
Museum quality details are used throughout
Museum quality details are used throughout
The abundant use of glass throughout visually connects the building to its community
The abundant use of glass throughout visually connects the building to its community
The center is a focal point of community life
The center is a focal point of community life
The 200-seat multi-purpose community space
The 200-seat multi-purpose community space
Connecting two buildings to the street
Connecting two buildings to the street

Context

Betances Houses: a New York City Housing Authority community comprised of many disparate buildings spread over several blocks in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. This public housing community was lacking in safe places where children, youth and adults could go to gather, exercise, play and learn. The site selected for the new community center was located along a pedestrian street opposite a public park, and required combining a dilapidated and unwelcoming single story gymnasium building with the lower floor of an adjacent housing tower.

Site Plan
Site Plan
Betances Houses
Betances Houses
Existing Single Story Gymnasium
Existing Single Story Gymnasium
Existing Entrance
Existing Entrance

Process: Study Models and Sketches

Interior Courtyard Isonometric Diagram and Sketch
Interior Courtyard Isonometric Diagram and Sketch
A dramatic curved orange wall is used to draw visitors into the space and link and unify the two buildings.
A dramatic curved orange wall is used to draw visitors into the space and link and unify the two buildings.

Transparency is maximized at every opportunity. Layers of laminated security glass directly connect the neighborhood with the interior courtyard, providing a rich and varied entry sequence. Extensive windows overlooking the surrounding sidewalks provide eyes-on-the-street.

Construction: Raised Roof of Interior Courtyard
Construction: Raised Roof of Interior Courtyard