An architectural design competition has set its sights, and its drafting boards, on revitalizing a former marine transfer station at 135th Street on the Hudson River.
The E-shaped building sitting on top of four piers was once a waste-processing site and access point for boats and barges, though it has been vacant since 1999. Now, local residents are hoping that the Harlem Edge/Cultivating Connections competition will help bring new life to the station by developing feasible new ideas for the space.
Savona Bailey-McClain, chair of Community Board 9’s Waterfront Committee, acknowledged that realizing a new vision for the station has been “a long process.”
Plans for the station, which is adjacent to the West Harlem Piers Park, have been debated by CB9 for over three years. In 2009, the board approved plan that included a vertical green wall, solar panels, and a restaurant space equipped for aquafarming.
But the board has not been able to move plans forward without an independent assessment of the site conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, at the cost of $300,000. McClain said that the board hoped that the competition, sponsored by the Emerging New York Architects Committee, would generate buzz to attract contributors to the study.
“ENYA engaging this site makes the project more sexy, more interesting, and opens us up for a lot of different possibilities, so people will pay attention and we can actually realize some of this,” said McClain.
ENYA’s previous design competitions have focused on sites such as Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and High Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx. Competition planner Matt Tenan said that “having a good basis for giving back to the community” was an important factor in the group’s selection of a site.
“The difference between working in previous communities and working in Harlem is that with previous sites we looked at it like, ‘This is what we think the area needs.’ With this site it was, ‘What does the area actually need itself,’” Tenan said.
The competitions typically attract competitors from art and architecture schools, Tenan said. Winners are awarded cash prizes and their submissions are displayed at New York City’s Center for Architecture.
“This is an ideas competition, but we hope that the city and Community Board 9 will look at the ideas and will learn and grow from there,” said ENYA co-chair Venesa Alicea.
Nourishing NYC, a nonprofit that promotes the importance of nutritional health and education, is looking to use the space. Its founder, Gina Keatley, said she hopes that the site can be “a kitchen, a facility to distribute, and a garden to grow locally right in Harlem.”
“We want to change the food culture of Harlem, and help people live longer, healthier lives and understand food,” said Keatley.
McClain maintains that “an open process” will be held to decide who will eventually occupy the site, but that the community board is interested in sustainability and growing more organic produce in Harlem, with a focus on local job creation.
“In the past, this competition was an opportunity to engage with the community. This is a good start to inform the future,” Alicea said.