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Penn State BArch Program, Third Year: Youth Center & Housing (16 weeks)

Status: completed

The Norris Square Neighborhood Project is a prominent force in the energizing of the youth and other community members in a heavy-crime area of Philadelphia. Founded in 1973, the center originally targeted at-risk Latino youth, encouraging teenagers to get involved in their community, to celebrate their culture, and to pull them away from the drug-infested, gang-controlled streets. The project grew quickly in size and prominence, and now occupies 2 adjacent rowhouses facing Norris Square. This project, located on an empty lot just at the end of the block, is designed as a new home for the fast-growing organization, as well as providing more residences to the neighborhood.

The row homes around Norris Square were originally built for factory workers during the Industrial Revolution; over time, however, economic problems and cultural turnovers forced the demolition of some of these homes, leaving behind strange gaps in the long rows of residences. The vulnerability of these voids is intriguing: the memory of the removed house remains, but the gaps spatially create an interesting language of mass versus void.

Fast forward, back to the founding of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project. Without sufficient funding to begin the desired gardening project, the first student-built gardens inhabited voids left by recently-demolished homes. When someone bought the property, the garden moved to a new spot, revitalizing another void in the community. The temporary nature of inhabiting and rejuvenating the void served as the main inspiration for this proposal.

When I began my proposal for this project, I realized that in order to recreate the effect of the void, I first had to create the mass from which I could subtract. By repeating the dimensions of a typical row house in Kensington, the effect of a large, solid block of program is achieved. I then removed some of the blocks, which in turn revealed the softer, vulnerable inside of the solid block (which I interpreted as a window wall), creating a private dialogue between the pavilions. This also created a separation of program, which I see as a necessary strategy for the flourishing organization. Separation, however, isn’t always required: the current NSNP hosts a weekly market to sell fresh produce, the T-shirts designed and manufactured by their Prodigies program, and much more, in an attempt to better involve the community. The first floor of my proposal features a window wall that can be completely opened, allowing for a large open market space that is accessible and exhibited to passersby. These flexible indoor and outdoor spaces allow for the developing program to grow in both size and influence.