PBDW Architects/Erica Gaswrith - Cooke School & Institute, designed to enhance the students’ wellness and independence
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Cooke School & Institute, designed to enhance the students’ wellness and independence

PBDW Architects/Erica Gaswrith

Education  /  Completed
PBDW Architects/Erica Gaswrith

Unlike other independent school children who expect top-notch facilities, special-needs students typically get hand-me-downs. The thoughtful design of the Cooke School & Institute demonstrates that good design has the power to inspire all who encounter it and elevate the experience of the special-needs students who call it home. The school incorporates color, dramatic bay windows, and specialized amenities that enhance the learning process as well as the surrounding neighborhood. It provides thoughtful, equitable design that is a model for all New York. This premier, purpose-built school consolidates three locations scattered around NYC into a central learning hub. The design serves a diverse age range and provides a dignified place of learning for this unique student population. The building is a split campus that maintains the distinct identities of the grammar and high schools and limits interaction between the oldest and youngest students. Larger shared spaces occupy the lower floors. The upper floors are divided in half creating a vertical campus for each school, each with its own dedicated classrooms and stair tower. Located in East Harlem, the site is surrounded by public housing towers. Architecturally, with abundant glazing and colored glass, the school is a bright and vibrant addition to the neighborhood. Channel glass lining the first floor illuminates the pavement during the evenings while providing privacy to the interior spaces. Although much smaller than the adjacent buildings, the school reads prominently along the street wall. Evocative bay windows break down the long façade into a more human scale. Because of its prominence along Madison Avenue, the bay windows were sculpted in multiple directions creating visual interest and movement across the façade. The projections create special spaces in the classrooms. Used as reading alcoves, they are furnished with millwork benches with integrated book storage. Perched in the bay, students have open views up and down Madison Avenue, where they can feel like they are floating above the busy street below. The large windows with floor to ceiling glass allow classrooms to feel spacious and open, despite having compact footprints. Color playfully articulates each classroom and joyfully enlivens the front and back facades. In the classrooms, it is strategically balanced with neutrals to create a bold impact and individualize the classrooms without overwhelming occupants. Unique to the program are the instructional spaces that are specific to Cooke’s pedagogy. To accommodate the variety of learning spaces needed, the design takes advantage of the deep site. Classrooms are positioned to maximize daylight and views, and each has its own adjoining break-out room where therapists work with individuals or small groups without the distractions of the larger classroom. Nestled between the classroom and corridor, these secondary teaching spaces are evenly distributed throughout the classroom floors enabling therapy to be seamlessly integrated into the daily routine. A limited number of classrooms per floor keeps corridors orderly and quiet. Carved with colorful alcoves and benches, the architecture encourages informal social interactions between students. The school is designed to enhance the students’ wellness and independence. Students are encouraged to use the stairs to strengthen their mobility and coordination. With ample glazing, wide flights, and frequent landings, they feel inviting and safe. Signage is color coded to facilitate independent wayfinding. Since many of the students are neurodivergent, special design considerations address their sensitivities. Enhanced acoustics control exterior and interior noise using unbalanced curtainwall glazing and specialized interior finishes. Classroom storage was designed with open and closed configurations to limit visual distractions, while providing opportunities for students to independently access supplies. Mobility limitations are accommodated by extra maneuvering space around furniture, and power assist at the stair doors which are heavier than others The school gives back to the community in many ways. It is reserving spaces for qualifying children who live in the adjacent public housing complex, and student internships have been established in the surrounding neighborhood as part of the high school curriculum. The gymnasium is offered for community use during after-school hours. By seamlessly incorporating specialized program elements, including daily living labs and sensory gyms, with thoughtful building design, the school provides an equity of design for historically marginalized students. For the users, the building provides a learning environment that accommodates their needs. Teachers and therapists no longer adapt programming due to building limitations. Students now learn without having to expend energy to compensate for physical and environmental challenges. Although rare for special-needs students, Cooke consistently achieves an 87% success rate and serves nearly 300 students annually, who might otherwise fall through the cracks of the city’s education systems. Because of Cooke, their graduates are employed, taking continuing education courses, and participating actively in their communities.


 New York City
 United States of America
 Cooke School & Institute
 6410.31 mq
 PBDW Architects
 Ray Dovell, Erica Gaswirth, Albert Chao, Daria Jurac Teplen, Kristin Bauer, Paul Appleby
 McGowan Builders
 Structural Engineer – Severud Associates; MEP Engineer – Skyline Engineering; Lighting Designer – One Lux Studio; Civil Engineer: AKRF, Inc.; Acoustic Consultant: Longman Lindsey; AV, IT, Security: TM Technology Partners; Façade Consultant: Heitmann & Associates Inc.; Elevator Consultant: IROS Elevator Design.
 Material Manufacturers/Installers: Cast-In-Place Concrete: Foundation Installation: Source Construction Foundation Waterproofing: GCP Applied Technologies Floor Slabs: Capstone Contracting Steel Installer: Structural Steel: AGL Industries, Inc. Miscellaneous Metals: PD Steel, Inc., M.A.C.-Teck Fabrication & Repairs, FJM-Ferro II, Inc. Architectural woodwork: Custom Wood Furniture Inc. Plastic Laminate: Formica Solid Surface Counters – Meganite Resin Panels – Lighblocks Exterior Sub-Contractor/Installer: Façade Technology Terra Cotta: Boston Valley Terra Cotta Curtain Wall: Erie architectural Products Insulated Metal Panels: Centria Fire-Rated Curtain Wall: TGP Fireframes Insulation: Roxul Rockwool CavityMate Vapor Permeable Air Barrier: Henry Company HE200AM Metal Clad Weather Barrier Channel Glass: Bendheim Rear Yard Fence: TwinBar Fence System by MRF Fence and Railing Systems Roof Installer: Nations Roof East, LLC Roof Membrane: Siplast Parapro Upper roof terrace: Sunny Brook Architectural Pavers Lower roof terrace: druaStrong rubber pavers Door Hardware: Curries, Rixon, Accurate, Sargent, Adams Rite, Norton, Rockwood, McKinney Interior Doors: Intex Commercial Door Systems LLC Rated Hollow Metal Doors: Assa Abloy: Curries Wood Doors: VT Industries Architectural Wood Doors – Bamboo Veneer Fire-Rated Glass Doors & Glazing: TGP Fireframes Carpentry: Topline Drywall Inc. Drywall: Continental Building Products Firecheck, MarinoWare metal studs, Johns Manville Formaldehyde-Free Fiber Glass Insulation, Continental Building Products Mold Defense Drywall ACT: Armstrong Ultima Tegular Plaster Installation: Cooper Plastering Corp. Acoustic Gypsum Ceiling Pyrok StarSilent Ceramic Tile Installation: Artistic Tile and Marble, Inc. Porcelain Floor Tile: Stone Source - Otto Grigio Natural Porcelain Floor Tile: Crossville – Structure – Basalt Ceramic Wall Tile: Nemo Metro Wall Tile – Various Colors Floor Covering Installation: JMC Floor Covering Classroom Flooring: Tarkett iQ Optima Acoustiflor Sheet Gymnasium: Gerfloor Taraflex Sport M Plus Administration: Milliken Color Field Cafeteria/Creative Arts/Yoga Studio: Mondo Advance OT/PT Studios: Ecore EcoSurfaces Visual Display Surfaces: NY Blackboard Corridor Display Rails: Fry Reglet Reveal/Picture Hanger Whiteboards: PolyVision Tackboards: Forbo Accessories: Benco, Inc. Toilet Partitions: Scranton Products Hiny Hiders Bathroom Accessories: Bobrick, Dyson Hand Dryer Lockers: Penco - Vanguard Movable Partitions: Flex-Wall Systems of N.Y. Moveable partitions: Kwik-Wall Kitchen Appliances: GE, Summit Gymnasium Equipment: Acme Stage & Sports Specialties Scoreboard/Shot Clock: Nevco Basketball backstops: PSS Wall padding: PSS Divider Curtain: PSS Bleachers: American Aluminum Seating Inc. Window Treatments LVC Window Shades: MechoShade Furniture Dealer: EvensonBest Classroom Furniture: KI – Intellect Activity Tables, Intellect Wave Chairs, Intellect Wave Tripod Desk Administration Furniture: Knoll – Dividends Horizon; Sit On It Focus Task and Side Chairs Auditorium: KI Maestro Stack Chair; Staging Concepts Portable Stage Cafeteria: KI Portico Folding Table, Opt4 Armless Chair Elevator: Otis Sprinkler Contractor: A.M.I. Accurate Mechanical, Inc. Plumber: Metrotech Mechanical Plumbing Fixtures: Elkay, Kohler, Duravit, Fiat Mechanical: Nu-Way Heating & Cooling Fans: Greenheck Outdoor Air Units: Daikin Variable Refrigerant Flow Units: LG Cabinet Heaters: Berko Electrical: Soleire Electrical Lighting Control: Lutron Switchgear: Benfield Control systems Generator: mtu onsite energy Lighting Supplier: Expressive Lighting Light fixtures: Coronet, Nora, Axis, Primus Lighting, GENLED Acolyte, Sonneman, USAI Lighting, preciseLED, Barbizon Lighting Company, XAL USA, Halophane, Folio, Backlight, Bega AV/IT/Security Installers: TriTech Communications AV Equipment: Bogen, Crestron, Gefen, JBL, Apple, Draper, Boyce Interactive Displays: SMART Security Equipment: Axis, S2 Security, Sargent IN Series
 Francis Dzikowski


For more than 50 years, PBDW Architects has provided intelligent, critical, creative responses to a wide range of cultural, commercial, and residential design challenges. We are a collegial practice of partners, associates, and staff who consistently deliver award-winning, collaborative, and evocative designs that enrich their contexts. The practice is a collaborative one that benefits from the direct participation of all partners, each of whom contributes expertise to every project.
Our projects are carefully designed to express the character of the organizations served and to be in harmony with their surroundings. Our work is energized by the dichotomy between contemporary designs for new buildings and the conscientious restoration of major historic landmarks. In new buildings and additions, and in an array of program types, the firm has consistently produced original designs that both harmonize with and invigorate their surroundings.


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