A Healthy Dose of Green
Jane Margolies -- Interior Design, 2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
When students of the Promise Academy in New York need an ice pack or have a toothache, Maya Angelou, Serena Williams, and Oprah Winfrey are part of the healing process. These prominent African-Americans appear in a photomural at the entry of the Harlem Children's Health Project, a 3,800-square-foot space by Guenther 5 Architects. Located on the fifth floor of this charter grammar school, the Harlem Children's Health Project is supported by the nonprofit Children's Health Fund, founded by singer Paul Simon and pediatrician Irwin Redlener to provide health care to the country's poorest children and their families.
The photomontage does more than inspire. It also camouflages the sliding door to an electrical closet and serves as a visual bridge to the reception area, where smaller images of influential African-Americans ring an oval soffit. Beneath it, the receptionist's counter is eye-catching terrazzo with embedded chips of colorful recycled glass.
Not just a pretty, welcoming face for the facility, reception seamlessly incorporates quite a lot of up-to-the-minute interactive technology. In the waiting area, a large flat-screen plasma display is hooked up to a webcam aimed at the lounge chairs. As children move around in their seats, covered in either lively stripes or a happy yellow, the video camera "paints" them into the picture. Across the room, in a horseshoe-shape computer lab for health and science programming, another flat screen—this one connected to the Internet—displays a Harlem streetscape that changes in real time, according to the weather outside.
The lab's eight computers sit on desks made of cherrywood, also used for cabinetry and the soffit. "In our urban projects, we fit in natural materials whenever we can," principal Robin Guenther explains. Right outside reception, cherry frames a pair of flat screens that will provide biofeedback to patients once "handlebars" are installed.
As with all Guenther 5 projects, the health center reflects its commitment to environmentally minded design as well as the neighborhood being served. A wide bamboo-floored corridor leads to three examination rooms on one side and three offices on the other—the latter belonging to the school nurse, health educator, and psychologist. All these spaces feature ecologically sensitive materials. "We always explore alternatives to the conventional choices," principal Jason Harper says.
The offices' playful blue-and-yellow broadloom is manufactured with nylon given the "environmentally preferable" stamp of approval by Scientific Certification Systems. And the exam rooms' flooring is old-fashioned linoleum, a recyclable product made with linseed oil. This particular linoleum just happens to be a purple as jazzy as the Apollo Theater.