June 21, 2020

LES credit union opens in alphabet city

desigNYC Completes the Renovation of the Lobby and Work Spaces at the
Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union
Collaborative Project Designed by Bernheimer Architecture and d/b/A design-build


desigNYC, (www.designyc.org), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of New Yorkers through the power of design, announces the completion of the renovation and refurbishing of the lobby and work spaces of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union (LESPFCU) located in Alphabet City. The collaborative team of designers from Bernheimer Architecture and d/b/A design-build transformed an outdated bank facility into a welcoming place for members of the LES People’s FCU and created a more efficient space for their staff of twenty-one to work. The LES People’s FCU joins the fifteen plus desigNYC projects to be fully completed and implemented since the organization was founded in 2009. The new design made its official debut to the members of the credit union on June 15th at their annual meeting.

Housed in an early 20th century former bank building that experienced multiple, albeit haphazard, modernizations – the most recent of which took place fifteen years ago – the credit union is a member-owned, not-for-profit institution that provides an alternative to traditional banking and serves its community by reinvesting in it. To that end, they wanted a proper, well-designed renovation that would retain some of the original space’s historic features and the welcoming character its members have come to appreciate. In essence, they wanted a place that their members and staff could be proud of.
”We wanted to bring a modern aesthetics to our space but not a sterile one. We did not want to lose the homey feeling of the building that’s important to our members, the warmth of the original wood wainscoting, the patina, and the murals painted by one of our members and installed since the mid-80s. The design team really worked with us to accomplish that balance beautifully,” says Linda Levy, CEO of the LESPFCU. For this project, desigNYC slightly changed the formula of its matching process. Instead of matching just one architectural firm interested in donating their time and talent on a pro bono basis, with one non-profit in need of their expertise, desigNYC selected two firms – Bernheimer Architecture and d/b/A design-build – to collaborate on this project.

“What makes this partnership with the LES People’s FCU exceptional and successful is that we identified a duo of architectural firms that provided a complementary skill set,” says Laetitia Wolff, executive director of desigNYC. “Bernheimer Architecture brought a strong conceptual vision to the renovation of this lobby, while d/b/A design-build took it to a fast-track implementation phase, jumping the lengthy hurdles of working with a contractor. They brought a hands-on approach to construction, devising cost-effective solutions including an innovative custom lighting developed in collaboration with Sylvania and Bartco. This type of multi-level collaboration enables desigNYC to achieve a greater impact for our client projects.”
The renovation incorporates several architectural elements that help create a dynamic new look, while making functional improvements in terms of organization, circulation, privacy, and lighting. A new greeter-desk at the entrance to the lobby acts as ‘information central’ where a receptionist can assist members and provide them with various information brochures. New custom built-in benches provide a comfortable place to sit and wait.

The focal point of the new design is a partition made of Corian that provides security and privacy for the back-office area. The partition is slightly transparent and emblazoned with a laser-cut of the credit union’s logo. The cut-outs allows for the flutter of movement to be visible from the lobby area and vice-versa. And to create a unifying effect, a new plane of custom-made bent metal shrouds painted in the credit union’s brand colors, were designed to generate a dynamic and illuminated surface that encases state-of-the-art lighting fixtures and makes the space look more spacious.
“Often smaller non-profit and community-based projects are challenged to achieve a high quality of design and aesthetics, due to limited budgets, logistical and bureaucratic delays, and they fall prey to dreaded ‘value engineering’ in their implementation,” says Steve Hoffman, co-founder of d/b/A design-build. “I think we made a strong case that the design-build scenario is a better way to complete these kinds of projects. In addition, desigNYC was a helpful partner, providing support for finding in-kind donations and other outreach, and their desire to see this project executed was catalyzing.”

“We are pretty proud of the final result, and LESPFCU certainly is a deserving client. We hope the community enjoys their new (but still familiar) space,” adds Andrew Bernheimer, AIA, principal of Bernheimer Architecture. The overarching mission was something we felt very strongly about so dedication to the project was palpable. Bouncing ideas off each other and having d/b/A design-build able to weigh in on the implications for construction was valuable. It allowed us all to think about the opportunities for design on a budget constantly, as opposed to having to design then get a reality check and then having to re-think once reality set in. In this case the reality checking was an ongoing, parallel operation so once the client gave us feedback we could develop ideas with confidence in the ability to execute.”

“The LESPCU has served a mostly Hispanic, and elderly, low-income community. Alphabet City and the Lower East Side have gone through a major gentrification process and the lobby renovation reflects the diversification of its core membership. We think this is meaningful at a time when alternative banking services find a wider support in post-Occupy Wall Street New York. desigNYC looks forward to supporting other affordable, democratic, community-focused service organizations, by leveraging design for the greater good of those whose (financial and other) rights are often challenged,” concludes Wolff.

FACT SHEET
The Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union, 37 Avenue B @ East 3rd Street
project scope: 1,468 SF, including 434 SF of work space, 386 SF of teller space, and a 648 SF lobby

Bernheimer Architecture:
Andrew Bernheimer, principal
Maxwell Worrell, senior architect
Alexandra Burr, junior architect
http://bernheimerarchitecture.com/

d/b/A designbuild:
Steve Hoffman, principal
Christopher Marcoux, principal
Allysa Taylor, project intern
http://dba-designbuild.com/
desigNYC advisors: Richard Vitto, OCV Architect and Laetitia Wolff, desigNYC
In-kind contributions:
lighting by Osram Sylvania, www.sylvania.com
lighting ballast by BartCo www.bartcolighting.com
file cabinets by Steelcase
office desk by Teknion

About the Lower East Side Federal Credit Union
The Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union is a member-owned, not for profit financial institution dedicated to meeting the financial services and credit needs of local residents, businesses and community organizations. Our mission is to stimulate economic and community development by providing a safe, affordable and democratic alternative to traditional banks, and by reinvesting our members’ money in the communities we serve. Since opening its doors 26 years ago to fill the void left by the closing of the last commercial bank in the neighborhood, LES People’s FCU has been committed to its vision that residents and communities in New York should not be abandoned and left vulnerable to predatory financial services simply because they are poor. LES People’s FCU has served more than 20,000 people, reinvested over $56 million back into the community (in the form of loans) mobilized over $30 million in local savings, and expanded access to financial services. https://lespeoples.org/

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