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Creatives Come Together To Reinvent A Legendary Harlem Arts School

Harlem has been a breeding ground for artists in every tradition, from ballet to music to fine art disciplines such as painting, sculpture, and photography. For the past 50 years, the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) has been a gathering place for students of all ages to explore these arts in an encouraging, supportive environment. The school, originally founded by Dorothy Maynor in 1964, received a much-needed update when the Herb Alpert Foundation funded “The Renaissance Project,” a 9.5-million-dollar renovation of the school. Imrey Studio LLC was retained to lead the physical and aesthetic re-design of the project, and Herb Alpert recommended WSDG (Walters-Storyk Design Group), a global architectural acoustics consulting and A/V integration firm, to lead the acoustic and A/V design. The renovation included updating the architectural footprint and performance spaces to meet the needs of Harlem’s next-generation arts community.

The team – WSDG Founder/Director of Design John Storyk and WSDG Partner/COO/Project Manager Joshua Morris; Architect of Record Eric Daniels; Lead Designer Celia Imrey; AVN Systems’ PK Pandey; and Melanie Freundlich Lighting Design – transformed the school’s entrance, creating a soaring, 3,500 square-foot entrance, conceived as a visual reflection of the school’s ongoing legacy; a welcoming space for aspiring artists that would realize the dreams of founder Dorothy Maynor.

“HSA has always been an oasis on the inside, but that has never been fully reflected by our building’s exterior,” explains Eric Pryor, President of HSA. “To remain relevant within both our local community and the greater artistic community, the public needs to see who we are and what we do.” A new, welcoming, two-story glass facade faces the street, allowing natural light into the space, and giving the public a view of performances and activities inside. “The new transparency of Dorothy Maynor Hall both literally and figuratively increases the school’s connection with the vibrant cultural community in Harlem,” says Celia Imrey. “By bringing the street in and the internal activities out, we set the stage for endless possibilities that until now have only been imagined.”

The angled glass wall mimics the facade of the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, also designed by WSDG, guaranteeing optimal acoustic sound quality. WSDG engaged advanced acoustic modeling software to simulate the new lobby and made recommendations for optimal acoustical designs and materials. “Much work was done in collaboration with Imrey Studio to preserve the look and feel of the space while ensuring peak acoustic quality,” says Joshua Morris. “We put a lot of thought into different use scenarios for the lobby and made sure to provide the school with the flexibility to present an extremely wide range of performances without requiring a large production support team.”

The built-in versatility of the space was a key part of the redesign, something that Pryor emphasizes has long-term practicality for HSA. “Having a space that can speak to multiple implementations is what will allow us to continue to evolve alongside the needs of our community and be at the forefront of arts and music education in the city,” he said. “We’re very proud of what the design team was able to accomplish for us, and for the next generation of artists and performers.”

John Storyk, whose acoustic architecture career began with designing Electric Lady Studios for Jimi Hendrix, concludes, “Herb Alpert has a real appreciation for the critical role that acoustical design plays in performance spaces based on his vast experience as a musician and recording executive. We were honored to have him reach out to us to be involved in this project, and to contribute to the rebirth of one of the most crucial arts education organizations in the city.”

Photography by Barkow Photo.

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