Journal

Oasis in the Ironbound

Watching the full moon sink into the western sky as the NYC skyline came into focus in the east, I left Newark early this morning with a happy heart.  We had come from Boston to see the new Ironbound Early Learning Center in full swing after 3 years in the making, and also to partake in the ceremony commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Ironbound Community Corporation.

  The Ironbound   is a large working class section of Newark whose name is derived from the network of rails surrounding the neighborhood. 

The Ironbound is a large working class section of Newark whose name is derived from the network of rails surrounding the neighborhood. 

As architects, our primary activities involve planning, that is to say, making tangible things out of ideas.  Architectural ideas have their genesis in both needs and desires, and inspiration can spring from diverse sources both within and beyond our own selves.  But the optimism that is borne with many of our good ideas can be killed a thousand different ways, despite our earnest determination to usher ideas through the challenging design and construction processes.  Elaborating on this point would only bring me down; let’s keep it on a high note.

Language is a construct of the mind, so words can’t fully transmit the joy of the heart that comes of seeing a building being used and loved by people whose daily lives are made richer by those good ideas which survived the journey that is the architecture and construction process

(To be honest, I had no direct role as an architect in the creation of the inspired Ironbound Early Learning Center, but I have the good fortune of working closely with those architects in our office who did!)

To see the alive-ness of the teachers and parents interacting with the children indoors within the classrooms, and outside in the courtyard and roof playground, and to see the beautiful, smiling faces of the children – those vulnerable vessels of infinite potential – is to be reminded why we do what we do as architects.  We were so proud to see that the building we designed is genuinely enhancing the daily lives of the many individuals who work and play there.  The building not only satisfies and exceeds the programmatic requirements it set out to support, but does so much more for its occupants by creating visually pleasing light-filled spaces and by making direct connections to protected outdoor play areas remote from the clamor of the streetscape.

We believe all working parents are entitled to have access to high quality child care; and that children have a right to be nurtured in spaces for learning and play which provide not only safety and comfort but also delight and challenge.  It takes a community to dedicate itself to initiating and sustaining high quality early education programs.  As the architects for the Ironbound Early Learning Center, we were given the opportunity to create a state of the art building thanks to the initiative, vision and perseverance of the Ironbound Community Corporation in its support of social justice; and also thanks to the transformative power of the committed philanthropy of its donor who wanted children of lesser means to have the same chance in life as his own grandchildren.  We are proud and grateful to have worked closely with this institution which is a central life force and oasis in the Ironbound section of Newark.

 Preschoolers enjoying the sandbox on the rooftop playground, Photo by Sean Gray 

Preschoolers enjoying the sandbox on the rooftop playground, Photo by Sean Gray