New York City’s North Brother Island has lived many past lives, as a shipwreck site, a smallpox clinic, a tuberculosis colony and a drug rehab facility, for starters. The 20-acre island, which sits between the Bronx and Riker’s Island, has been abandoned since the 1970s. But two architecture students are hoping to change that soon, with a proposal to build a school for autistic children on the island.
A daring kayaker trekked out there earlier this year to snap some erie pictures of what the abandoned place looks like now. In the 50 some-odd years since the island has been used, its crumbling, decrepit buildings have been overtaken by vegetation, and the land has become a nesting ground for water birds. It's a really cool spot that looks somewhere in between war ruins and farmland that you don't really believe exists in the Big Apple's backyard. And Ellis and Peterson want to build something that respects its integrity and provides for both kids, their parents, and the plant and wildlife that's set up shop on North Brother.
So what would the plan look like? The main school building would be built in the middle of the island, as to avoid bird's typical nesting grounds. Five of the existing buildings on the island would be restored for the school's use. Structures on the south end of North Brother would be revamped for use by the New York City Parks Department, Cornell University Department of Ornithology, and the Audubon Society.
The island would allow administrators to control the school environment more carefully, which makes it a good fit for kids with Autism, whose needs are often not met in traditional schools. There are different types of Autism — some kids are hypersensitive, meaning they need safety, control, and consistency. Others are hyposensitive, meaning they need to be able to explore and discover. With varying types of indoor and outdoor spaces, the island would be able to satisfy all of these needs. There would be a contained play area in the middle, so kids could explore; but they'd also have access to a controlled area if necessary. Classrooms would be mostly identical, but the scissor-shaped roof as well as gardens would provide nuance. The roof would also allow for enough natural light to enter the school without being totally overwhelming.
Overall, the designers would respect the way the island has grown as it's decayed. For example, the existing vegetation would be used to guide further plant growth and establish tidal flats. The harmony of manmade and natural structures is designed to benefit the students with special needs and the wildlife that needs protection equally — even the city stands to gain from the economic growth. Although for now, it's just that — a plan. For now the island remains empty, only accessible to birds and fearless explorers. [ArchDaily via BusinessInsider, SeriouslyForReal]