Queens AIA President Wins Award
Laura Heim, President of the Queens Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, received an Award of Merit for Design from the American Institute of Architects New York State (AIANYS) for a sensitive renovation project in historic Sunnyside Gardens. The ceremony was held in Buffalo, N.Y., as part of the AIANYS annual convention October 13-17. Over 400 architects from across New York state entered this prestigious awards program. The award-winning project in the adaptive reuse category converted an original 1920s two family house into a single family dwelling. The result is an exemplary example of not only respecting the historic appearance of a building, but understanding its importance in context. The new owner, Anna Thea Bridge, had both the vision to complete the restoration and a personal commitment to contribute to the preservation of Sunnyside Gardens. She sought a home in the neighborhood specifically because it was a historic district. In the modest, modernist buildings of Sunnyside Gardens, each understated detail is crucial. In this case, Heim restored not only the existing details but returned the building to its historic appearance, as documented in the 1940s tax photo. The scope involved restoring the historic front porch to its original character, removing the inappropriate brown shingles to re-create a light-filled entry. The porch leads into the upgraded and modernized interior, reimagined according to contemporary standards and needs. By eliminating the bedrooms, the new first floor plan provided an open arrangement of living room, dining room and kitchen.
The enclosed stairway to the second floor was opened up and to become part of the living area. Originally a separate residence, the second floor was reconfigured for three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The effect of this restoration on the neighborhood cannot be overstated, particularly on heavily trafficked Skillman Avenue. This row house restoration is a very public
step toward the renovation of the entire block. The campaign to pres erve Sunnyside Gardens created a great deal of tension in the community, much of it based on the fear that landmark status would transform this diverse, modest neighborhood into a fancy, pretentious area. Projects such as this one, done by neighbors for neighbors, are an antidote to this kind of community-crippling fear. It is, in its own understated way, the best and most appropriate advertisement for the preservation of Sunnyside Gardens.