by Jerry ElengicalJun 24, 2022
American architect, educator and Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Deborah Berke, and her eponymous award-winning New York-based practice are known for their ability to distil complex environmental, social, and aesthetic conditions into meaningful architecture. From reimagining old buildings to constructing new ones, the practice has been recognised for its work numerous times. In 2017, the firm received a National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. More recently, Berke herself was awarded the 2022 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, it being one of the highest honours given for architectural education in the United States.
The studio recently completed the new campus for NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. The not-for-profit arts and community incubator is housed in two former manufacturing plants in the Dixwell community. The adaptive reuse project is stitched between the old structure and the new additions. NXTHVN, pronounced as Next Haven, is a grassroots endeavour undertaken by American contemporary artist and McArthur Genius grant holder, Titus Kaphar, along with Jonathan Brand and Jason Price. The space is dedicated to providing affordable workspaces for artists, mentoring local youth, and contributing to the revitalisation of the surrounding community while avoiding gentrification tactics.
Dedicated to providing workspaces for emerging artists and curators of colour through a fellowship program, the 40,000 sqft facility presents a new volume that consists of apartments for the residing fellows. The institution also offers paid apprenticeships to New Haven high school students and is considered a new national arts model of mentorship, professional development, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Maitland Jones, Partner-in-Charge of the project said, “Projects for artists, in particular renovations of old buildings, are generally expected to be invisible or indistinct. It is notable that Titus and his team sought a building that would stand out. Titus’ work is transformative, and indeed NXTHVN’s mission is too. It was important to NXTHVN that their home be visibly transformed, as an expression of NXTHVN’s work.”
Kaphar elaborated on the purpose of Next Haven saying, “NXTHVN is an opportunity for me to go back in time to when I was having conversations with faculty. I am able not only to see these young artists’ work from a formal perspective but to get into the weeds of its social, political and emotional impact as well. Creativity is an essential asset. In order to be successful, you have to be able to imagine something you don’t see. That’s the power we want to impart to the young people with us.” The coexistence of nostalgia and progress is an important part of NXTHVN’s vision. It is also a detail that is reflected in the buildings overall design. The facade clearly indicates the parts of the building that are old and the ones that are new. It is an envelope that illustrates the structure's history and its new story.
Keeping the character of the industrial building alive while infusing it with contemporary aesthetics and a cultural program required a unique and creative approach. Deborah Berke Partners chose to retain some of the key elements of the buildings and highlighted them by keeping them exposed. These include architectural and structural elements such as timber beams, brick walls and concrete floors. The spatial programmes within the facility include office spaces, artist studios, a community meeting hall, a gallery, a 3D printing fabrication lab, and a cafe that opens onto the street.
Speaking of the process and vision of such a community project, Berke said, “NXTHVN builds on ideas we developed 20 years earlier in our design for the Yale School of Art: that the best things come from complex combinations of program and use. At NXTHVN one finds artists in residence, with technical studios and facilities, a public commons and cafe, a theatre, a gallery and an internship program. We call this kind of project one that is ‘more than...’ This is entirely in keeping with Titus’ own visionary project.” NXTHVN uses architectural elements to dissolve boundaries and serves as an inclusive and flexible community art space for emerging artists and curators of colour. The new additions open up the structure and work in tandem with the NXTHVN’s vision of encouraging collaboration between artists, art professionals, and local entrepreneurs.