Design Firm Chosen for Bayview’s Transformation
BY SEAN EGAN | This week another step was taken in the long-gestating rehabilitation process of the former Bayview Correctional Facility (550 W. 20th St., at 11th Ave.). Late last year, it was announced that the former medium-security women’s prison (abandoned in 2012, just before Hurricane Sandy) would become New York City’s first Women’s Building — a place devoted to serving as a hub for the girls’ and women’s rights movement, and offering assorted resources to help women and girls in the city. This week, the NoVo Foundation and the Goren Group, the entities responsible for the space’s renovation, announced that they had selected an architectural firm to shepherd the redesign — representing some of the first developments in the transformation process.
On July 8, Deborah Berke Partners was announced as the winner of the International Design Competition — a search launched in November 2015, which found a slate of 43 applicants gradually whittled down by a selection committee. The committee was comprised of eight individuals, who ran the gamut from leading architects, women’s rights activists, and former inmates, who eventually decided on Berke’s firm — whose work in the area notably includes the Marianne Boesky Gallery, and GMHC and High Line offices.
“Three things really stood out about Deborah Berke and her team,” NoVo Foundation Executive Director Pamela Shifman told Chelsea Now. “First, their creativity and expertise; second, their collaborative spirit and willingness to co-create; and the team’s strong alignment with the mission and the values of The Women’s Building. Deborah Berke has promoted the advancement of women in the field of architecture throughout her career, and it was very clear to all of us, and the selection committee, that her team truly walks the talk.”
This sentiment was echoed by NoVo and Goren higher-ups in a press release the selection.
“As we think about all The Women’s Building stands for and all we hope it will be, Deborah Berke Partners truly embodies the essence of that vision,” wrote Goren Group President and Founder Lela Goren, noting that she believes the architect will help “breathe renewed life into the space.” NoVo Co-Presidents Jennifer and Peter Buffett further endorsed the choice, noting that with Berke onboard, “this shared commitment to equality and justice can grow.”
NoVo and the Goren Group have already shown their commitment to taking community opinion seriously — the entities haven spoken to around 600 women’s rights activists, as well as Chelsea community members/leaders, according to Shifman. In addition, they held a brainstorming session in December 2015 to cull community suggestions for the space. Berke, they feel, will continue this precedent of community collaboration.
“We thought that Deborah Berke and her team would embrace feedback from leaders and activists about what they hope to see in this building, and use all of that input to create something truly remarkable,” said Shifman.
While the specifics of what ideas received from the community could not be confirmed at this juncture, Shifman assured, “The process of community consultation is ongoing.” She did reiterate that the building will definitely include office space for women’s rights nonprofits and shared conference space, and likely child care services, a café, and green space.
Furthermore, the NoVo Foundation and the Goren Group expect Berke and her team to incorporate the building’s history into plans. Some of the building’s unique features were on display during a May community tour of the building — which also functioned as a YMCA frequented by sailors prior to its use as a prison — such as nautical themed mosaics in a pool. Again, while not able to confirm what will stay, Shifman assures that discussions are ongoing, and that they have a commitment to historic preservation.
Shifman also stressed “the need to make sure that the painful history of this building is not forgotten,” suggesting that “some aspect of the actual prison may be maintained” to memorialize the building.
With this first step now taken, The Women’s Building is on track to become a reality. Shifman revealed that construction is set to begin in 2017, with eyes on a 2020 completion date — but those responsible for the project believe that it transcends the physical location itself.
“We’ve come to realize that The Women’s Building already exists,”
noted the Buffetts in a statement. “It lives in the community of people who are coming together to imagine how a space of women’s confinement can be transformed into a space for women’s liberation.”