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Gluck+ Creates a School as a Social and Spatial Crossroads

Aug 07, 2023

Fitting in can be hard at school. What’s true for students applies as well to the school itself, especially if it’s a growing K—8 academy in a mixed-use building in Queens, the most culturally diverse borough of New York City. Occupying two-and-a-half floors in the base of a building that a developer had already erected, Central Queens Academy (CQA) had to work within the constraints of a structure originally envisioned as offices or retail space with 15 stories of apartments above.

Hallway view with a commons on the right. Individual classrooms entrances are distinguished with bold splashes of color and a strip light. Photo © Here and Now Agency/Paul Vu, click to enlarge.

View of the Crossroads Commons near the school’s main stairwell. This area will provide access to a future “gym bridge” leading to an adjacent building. Photo © Here and Now Agency/Paul Vu

The school, though, was thrilled to get 83,000 square feet of space, having occupied much smaller, temporary facilities at multiple locations during its first 10 years of operation. “Now we can have music, dance, and theater programs, as well as a full STEM program and phys ed,” says Ashish Kapadia, the school’s executive director. Kapadia and the architects at Gluck+ spent several years looking at about 40 different sites before agreeing to a 48-year lease in a building on the corner of Justice and 55th Avenues in the Elmhurst section of Queens. It shares the first floor with a medical facility run by Emblem Health, but has its own entry on Justice Avenue. Emblem occupies the second floor, while the school has classrooms on the third and fourth floors, in addition to a small lobby and a cafeteria on the ground floor. A gym is nearing completion in a neighboring connected building and will flow seamlessly from the school’s cafeteria.

Learning spaces located around the perimeter of the building are flooded with natural light. Photo © Here and Now Agency/Paul Vu

Each of the upper floors of the school offers about 35,000 square feet, which is ideal for offices but difficult for a public charter school serving elementary and middle-school students. The challenge for Gluck+ principal Charlie Kaplan and his team was to figure out what to do with the space in the center of each floor where daylight is scarce. Their first move was to locate classrooms around the perimeter where floor-to-ceiling glazing helps create bright, attractive interiors. Next, they approached the rest of the space as if it were an urban plan—arranging classrooms in “villages,” laying out hallways as “streets,” and carving out a series of plazas or “commons” in the middle. The school sits at the junction of multiple city grids in Queens, so the architects echoed this sense of urban crossings in the way the commons act as gathering places for different “neighborhoods.”

Common spaces for gathering and daily interaction are a take on urban public plazas (1 & 2). Photos © Here and Now Agency/Paul Vu

Stairwell connecting the classrooms located on the building’s third and fourth floors. Photo © Here and Now Agency/Paul Vu

CQA, which moved into its new home last fall, now has 800 students in the building and will add another 100 next year. Faculty and staff account for another 110 people. Kindergarten and elementary school classes occupy the third floor, while the middle school is on the fourth. The layout of each floor is near-identical with four commons on each, though the décor and fit-outs vary. The Central Commons on each level has a green carpet that resembles a lawn and a recessed blue ceiling that alludes to the sky. Used for non-traditional teaching, as well as social gathering and relaxing between classes, this space is fitted with built-in seating and a large white wall where children can draw or images can be projected. Kindergarten students get their own wing at one end of the floor and a commons with a raised platform on one side that can be used as a small stage. On the floor above, this wing is for eighth graders and its commons is lined on three sides with lockers that give the students a hint of the high school experience.

View of learning hub classroom. Photo © Here and Now Agency/Paul VU

Hallways are lined with concrete-board wainscotting at the base and cork board above for pinning up materials. Clerestory glazing runs above the pin-up board, bringing in daylight from classrooms on the perimeter of the floor. To visually break the long corridors, Kaplan and his team articulated each classroom entry with a cut out above the door, a splash of orange paint, and a strip light. Designed during the Covid pandemic, the school’s HVAC system employs one air unit for every two classrooms with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter for each one.

CQA’s students come from about 40 different countries and a broad range of racial, linguistic, and economic backgrounds. In turn, the architects designed interiors that would be flexible enough to accommodate different ways of teaching and learning. And by transforming the project’s toughest constraints—the areas on each floor farthest from daylight—into social hubs, Gluck+ created a school that aptly expresses the demographic crossroads that is Queens.

Massing diagram. Image © GLUCK+, click to enlarge.

Classroom module diagram. Image © GLUCK+, click to enlarge.

Read about other K-12 projects from our August 2023 series.

Location: 88-08 Justice Ave, Elmhurst, Queens Completion Date: January 2022Gross Square Footage: 80,000 square feetTotal Construction Cost: $6,900,000Client: Friends of Central Queens Academy Charter School

Architect:GLUCK+ 423 W 127th Street, New York, NY

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:GLUCK+ (in alphabetical order): Peter Gluck, Charlie Kaplan (Principal in Charge), Yoonjin Kim, Marisa Kolodny, Marc Pittsley, Steve Preston

Architect of record:Tom Mui, RA, 718.886.8628


Structural Engineer:Silman

MEP Engineer:GEA Consulting Engineers

Engineers of Record

MEP Engineer of Record:EJC Engineering PLLC

Structural Engineer of Record:Times Building PC Engineering Services


Lighting Design:Lux Populi

Food Service:Kitchen Consultants, Inc

General contractor:Grand Construction & Development Group Corp.

Photographer:Here and Now Agency

Real Estate Brokerage and Advisory:Open Impact Real Estate

Owner’s Representative (For CQA):Zubatkin Owner Representation, LLC


Locksets PDQClosers: PDQExit Devices: PDQPulls: PDQOther Special Hardware: Sugatsune Stainless Steel Hooks and Drawer Pulls

Interior Finishes

Acoustical Ceilings:USG Ensemble System, International Cellulose K-13 Thermal Insulation Spray, Armstrong OptimaCabinetwork and custom woodwork: Richelieu Standards and ShelvesPaints and Stains: Zolatone Flex Dimensions, Benjamin Moore RegalWall Coverings: Koroseal Tac-Wall, Koroseal Walltalkers, Guilford of MainePlastic Laminate: Abet Laminati, WilsonartSolid Surfacing: Porcelanosa KrionFloor and Wall Tile: Daltile Color Wheel, Nemo Tile Verve, Nemo Tile Basalt, Town and Country Surfaces MoonstoneResilient Flooring: Tarkett Johnsonite Triumph, Tarkett Melange, Tarkett iD Latitude Stone and Concrete, Tarkett Rubber Tread with Integrated Riser, Rikett RQT Classic, Rikett RQT Medley, Dex-O-Tex M-E FlooringCarpet: Milliken Common Thread, Milliken Major Frequency: Two, Milliken MultiForm, Interface Human NatureRaised Flooring: Harlequin Flexity with Harlequin FreeStyleSpecial Interior Finishes Unique to this Project: Jorgensen Signature Lockers,Synlawn Artificial Grass (SynAugustine 847), Vangelder Natural Coco, EcoFabrix Classix Window Treatments, Europatex Casablanca 44 fabric


Interior Ambient Lighting: Luxrite LED FlatpanelsLinear LEDs: Precise LED Zenlite, Precise LED Beam, Precise LED StudDownlights: Precise LED Novation, Acuity Brands Indy LC4, Spectrum Lighting 6” Round Direct CylindersDecorative Fixtures: Coronet Loop, Prudential Lighting O-20, O-40, Coronet PRD-LED, Kuzco Lighting Helena Pendant


Toilets: SloanUrinals: TotoBathroom Sinks and Faucets: American StandardClassroom Sinks: Elkay, KrausClassroom Faucets: Grohe, WatersaverPlumbing Accessories: Bobrick, BradleyEyewash Station: GuardianMop Sinks and Fillers: Fiat by CraneDrinking Fountains: Elkay


Low-temp cook hold Oven: Alto-SHAAMMobile Heated Warming Cabinet: MetroMobile Milk Cooler: Continental RefrigeratorTeacher Fridge: GETeacher Dishwasher: GETeacher Microwave: GE


LG VRF Systems including HEPA filters and Economizers for maximum classroom air hygiene and outside air

Contributing editor Clifford Pearson is the co-author, with A. Eugene Kohn, of The World By Design, and writes about architecture and urbanism.

Location:Completion Date:Gross Square Footage:Total Construction Cost:Client:Architect:Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:Architect of record:EngineersStructural Engineer:MEP Engineer:Engineers of RecordMEP Engineer of Record:Structural Engineer of Record:ConsultantsLighting Design:Food Service:General contractor:Photographer:Real Estate Brokerage and Advisory:Owner’s Representative (For CQA):HardwareInterior FinishesLightingPlumbingAppliancesEnergy