The Scenario |
On what was at one time, the Idlewood Airport, now sits Idlewild Park. Rich in New York history, Idlewild is one of the largest remaining saltwater marshes in Queens. In the recently built Learning Center on the site, AGS Stainless was chosen to custom design and then fabricate 100% offsite, the stainless railing system for the project.
In this interview, Teresa Duncan, Architect and Urban Planner at AGS Stainless, interviews the Lead Architect, Antonio Donofrio, and the Landscape Architect, Signe Nielsen on the project. Their responses help to give us some understanding of their vision and what went into the design choices they made.
The Interview | Lead Architect, Antonio Donofrio
Teresa: Antonio, did the location of the project in a saltwater marsh influence the design of the learning center and the materials that were chosen?
Antonio: Yes, Teresa, I made those choices based on a combination of things. The main idea in terms of the building is that the building tells the story of the water.
The water pretty much shaped the building. The learning center is located in a saltwater marsh; the roof structure is very much defined and created to collect water. Then, a big drain cup directs the water into an area where there is a natural pond. There the water goes back into the salt marsh. So, the water returns to the marsh, and the building is part of that process.
In terms of the materials, the main idea had to do with sustainability, and everything is pretty much recycled or recyclable. The interior of the building is paneled with high-performance OSB structural panels; also, we use no sheetrock. The idea was to make it sustainable and recycle content as part of the natural process as much as possible. (Editor’s note – stainless steel railing is typically comprised of no less than 50% recycled content and stainless steel is 100% recyclable)
Teresa: How important was it to integrate the building with the environment?
Antonio: The project is located at the end of the street. Once you get there, you'll find a green park that complements the street's slightly suburban/urban character. Then, to the right, as you enter the park, you'll see a softball field, some picnic areas, and a parking lot. Finally, you are transported to another world as you enter one of the largest remaining saltwater marshes in Queens.
The idea behind the learning center was simple, to create a place where kids from different schools could immerse themselves in this amazing natural setting. We envisioned a space where students could participate in excursions and day trips designed to help them enjoy, learn from, respect, and protect this environment. The learning center includes both indoor and outdoor classroom spaces. Of course, the design also allows for administrative space, some additional support space, and some areas for displays. Essentially, the interior of the learning center was designed to be a very flexible-open space. It's a big classroom that can be divided into larger or smaller areas, depending on the need. The learning center also serves as an event space for local community activities.
Teresa: Being close to one of the busiest airports in the world must have presented challenges. What did the Idlewild Park Saltwater Marsh's proximity to one of the busiest airports in the world play in the work you performed for the project?
Antonio: The airport was initially named Idlewild, but after JFK was assassinated, it was renamed the John F. Kennedy International Airport. Yes, the project is located behind this big airport, but the rest of the area is pretty much one and two-family unit houses, which gives this neighborhood a slightly suburban feel. Although the park is in the city of New York, it is on the edge of the town, and it can be quiet and tranquil. In the design process, we worked to balance the urban and the natural characteristics of the surrounding environment.
Teresa: When selecting materials for the project, was a key consideration the fact that stainless steel marine grade 316 is highly durable and resistant to corrosion compared to other materials like aluminum – as well as being recyclable?
Antonio: Yes, also the fact that it is a saltwater marsh and aluminum doesn't perform well in that kind of environment. So, we just thought that stainless steel was the right decision. We incorporated the lighting as well because that's sort of a processional way to get into the building.
Teresa: Signe, as a landscape architect, what was the most important thing you wanted to accomplish in this project?
Signe: This was a unique restoration project. The most important thing was restoring the property's functioning systems, which had become fairly degraded through a lot of the excavation work that was done for the stormwater system. On the one hand, we wanted the make sure the public felt welcome here. We wanted to make them feel comfortable, so they could come in and really enjoy this space. At the same time, we had to keep in mind that this was a sensitive restoration project that required the protection of the wetlands area.
Along the way, we were able to include a number of creative elements that really added to the enjoyment of the learning center. For example, we created a rain garden. You’ll notice this feature as you enter and leave the building along the bridge. It really adds to the overall experience of visiting the learning center. We enjoyed these creative aspects of the project, but again, this was more about trying to restore the natural systems that were there.
Teresa: The project's proximity to one of the busiest airports in the world, but at the same time very close to a small-scale residential neighborhood, is a big challenge for an urban planner. How did you approach that?
Signe: It was a challenge. When the pedestrians come out of the parking lot, they cross this area with the trees we saved. Then they get to the building's entrance, a ramped bridge where the railing was intended to be minimal so it didn't draw attention to itself. Sometimes designing something minimal but functional at the same time can be a very hard thing to do. People think, “oh, it must be easy,” but it isn't. So, the interrelationship between the railing, the building, and the landscape was very important to us. It is a very, very sensitive site that we want people to not only continue to enjoy, but to learn from as well when they visit the site.
Teresa: I know one of the big challenges when choosing the materials for this project was the location on a saltwater marsh.
Signe: I would never use aluminum for this project. Marine-grade stainless is proven, in my experience, to be a much more suitable material in places with humidity, especially salty water where there is a risk of corrosion.
Project Details |Architect: Antonio Donofrio, AIA Principal, Handel Architects LLP Landscape Architect: Signe Nielsen Founder Principal Mathews Nielsen - Landscape Architects, P.C. Contractor: PAUL J SCARIANO, INC | DEBOE CONSTRUCTION, NY Project Size: 5,400 square foot single-story building Railing Products: AGS Stainless, Inc. | Glacier with mesh panels stainless steel railing system and round top + guard handrail. Total Project Cost: $8.1 M Written by: Teresa Duncan, Architect | Urban Planner AGS Stainless, Inc.
About Idlewild Park
Idlewild Park is located on the Northwest border of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Idlewild Park is a gateway into the marshland of Jamaica Bay. The water provides an astounding view of surrounding habitats, including freshwater and tidal wetlands and the tributaries of Hook Creek. The bay is home to many kinds of birds and marine life, including egrets, ibis, and herons, which make up 25 percent of the northeast Atlantic population.
Salt marshes play a critical role in the support of human life, acting as natural filtration systems by trapping pollutants that would otherwise contaminate our bays and oceans. Salt marshes have the ability to absorb fertilizers, improve water quality, and reduce erosion. They are also among the richest wildlife habitats.
Why Demand Offsite Fabrication for Your Project’s Ornamental Railing System?
Whether you are designing a commercial or residential project; all-stainless steel railing systems 100% fabricated off-site and custom-designed will provide several real advantages to your project. Offsite fabrication dramatically improves product quality, delivers consistency in quality, and shortens installation time, waste and costs.
Why choose AGS STAINLESS, Inc.|
For over 3-decades, AGS Stainless has fabricated custom railing systems for some of the world’s most distinctive homes, educational facilities, and commercial properties.
AGS offers custom-designed, offsite fabricated railing systems from high quality marine grade A316 stainless steel with stainless steel cable, stainless steel bar, wire mesh, or tempered glass panel infill options. An innovative component based design eliminates the need for any on site welding or cutting of posts and top rail.
For more information, visit AGSstainless.com or call 888-842-9492.