Founded in 1964, the Harlem School of the Arts has been a beacon for arts education and community culture in New York City for more than fifty years. In 2019 the school announced an ambitious renovation dubbed “The Renaissance Project” in partnership with The Herb Alpert Foundation to modernize the school’s educational and performance spaces. Longtime friends of Alpert and his wife Lani Hall, WSDG’s services were retained for the acoustic design and A/V integration of the project. The HSA redesign team was led by Celia Imrey of Imrey Studio, a NY-based firm recognized for its work on museum and library design.
The goals of the WSDG design team were to establish the school’s lobby as a multifunctional, acoustically tuned performance environment suitable for all musical, dance and theatrical performance needs. In addition to this, the acoustic design and A/V elements needed to integrate seamlessly into the space to avoid disrupting its look and feel while still being accessible to the school’s staff and students. In addition to this, the team also were tasked with updating the acoustics and A/V of the school’s classrooms to match the quality of the new performance space.
The renovation of the building began with the replacement of the 40-year-old building’s original two-story “Brutalist-style” brick exterior with a double-height, glass wall angled at 5-degrees off the vertical, and analogous to what WSDG helped create for Jazz at Lincoln Center. The glass wall creates a welcoming entrance to the school and makes the lobby/performance space visible from the street.
The new lobby design allows for multiple performance locations and variable acoustic profiles, using a combination of integrated A/V design and acoustic treatment. The WSDG design team specified discrete felt baffling in the ceilings and acoustic curtains manufactured by iWeiss that can be raised or lowered depending on the acoustic needs of the performance. All of the lobby’s systems can be operated from the Front of House position – a micro-perforated wood wrapped balcony overlooking the center of the performance space. In addition to its audio systems, the lobby also has an integrated projector and screen that can be lowered over the glass wall.
Photography: Photos 1, 2 & 3 by Elias Williams for The New York Times.