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 middle-income utopia”.
Layered with Texture
The buildings themselves are quite unimposing; the fabric and texture of the existing neighborhood is maintained while 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 Meier’s signature shiny white metal panels, while elsewhere, red bricks dominate – something Meier has not used to clad facades in decades – reflecting and emphasizing 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
In more than one way way, Richard Meier is returning to his roots with this project. Considering the art museums and luxury villas with which his name has become synonymous for the last couple of decades, his involvement in the Teachers Village project marks a return to the community complexes of his early career, such as the Westbeth Artists’ Housing in the West Village and Twin Parks Northeast Housing in the Bronx.
Whether or not Meier’s motivation for entering into the project was indeed a renewed sense of civic responsibility, is besides the point, really, as a distinct air of wanting to give something back to the city – an attempt to restore its former glory – 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|
|CITY||Newark, New Jersey|