Richard Meier & Partners
By Jakob Harry Hybel
The first phase of an immensely ambitious project aiming to transform five blighted building blocks near the heart of Newark's business district into an education center with adjacent middle and low-income housing has just been completed. It also happens to be Newark native Richard Meier's first project in his hometown.
In its heyday, back in the 1950s, Newark, New
Jersey was the business and entertainment capital of the state. In
recent years however the district has fallen on hard times,
something Newark mayor Cory Booker has vowed to turn around. Since
his election in 2006, Booker has proposed radical plans to rebuild
the city's crime-ridden and poverty-stricken downtown area through
expansive urban renewal - a key element of which is the 14-block,
mixed-use development project, known as Teachers Village.
Revitalization Through Gentrification
When fully completed in 2015, Teachers Village - for which Richard Meier & Partners developed the master plan - will consist of eight low-rise buildings clustered around the intersection of William and Halsey Streets, in Newark's historic Four Corners district. The building complex will include three charter schools accommodating around 1,000 students and feature residential housing earmarked for local teachers and commercial space for Newark-based retail outlets. In addition, it will house a gymnasium and fitness center that will be open to the community, as well as a daycare center and a preschool.
As the name reveals, Teachers Village aims to
create a homogenous community of teachers who will ideally live in
the apartments, shop at the stores, teach at nearby schools and
meet with other teachers in the so designated plazas. This influx
of middle-income residents is thought to energize the now run-down
area, while creating a strong community revolving around the local
schools and its staff. According to developer Ron Beit, the driving
force behind the project, the vision has been to create "a
Layered with Texture
The buildings themselves are quite unimposing; the fabric and texture of the existing neighborhood is replicated whilst simultaneously maintaining a distinct newness. As Meier explains, he wanted Teachers Village to stay "true to its historic roots, while at the same time ensuring that the community has a unique distinction and quality suggestive of a new chapter commencing."
The choice of materials clearly demonstrates
this duality. Certain parts of the facades are clad in shiny white
metal panels, a signature of most Meier projects, while elsewhere,
red bricks dominate, reflecting the materiality of the neighboring
buildings. The interior of the schools is kept in a simple and
subtle tone, the walls painted white and the windows lined with
back-painted white glass panels diffusing the light.
An Amicable Effort
Richard Meier has strayed noticeably out of his comfort zone here. Considering the exclusive art museums and luxury villas with which his name has become synonymous, his involvement in an economically humble project such as the Teachers Village seems striking, if not odd, and one cannot help to wonder what prompted his decision. It might be a sentimental wish to restore the city to its former glory. Or the reason could be strictly pragmatic, as the still-declining economy doesn't allow for even star architects to be picky.
Ultimately, whether Meier was motivated by
nostalgia or necessity is besides the point, as a distinct air of
wanting to give something back to the city is permeating the entire
project. So, while it remains to be seen whether or not the project
will in fact succeed in inspiring a tainted neighbourhood with a
new sense of purpose and identity, all parties involved seem to
have their heart in the right place - and this altruistic
collectivity might just do the trick.
We were never just building buildings, we were always building a tool that would serve this city./ Ron Beit, Teachers Village lead developer
Facts about Teachers Village
Hyung Sok Moon
Three other buildings currently under construction will house 123 apartments pre-marketed to teachers and 30,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level. Completion date is spring 2014.
A sixth building, expected to be finished by 2015, will house an additional 90 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space.
Last updated: December 20, 2013
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