Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy I

New York, New York

Promise Academy I is the largest school built for the Waiting for Superman documentary hero, Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone® (HCZ) initiative. Inspired to change the odds for a community that historically had the least resources and most challenges, HCZ and partners secured a site for the project within the St. Nicholas Houses public housing ADDITIONAL INFORMATIONASSOCIATED FIRMCivic Builders (Developer)CAPACITY1,300COST PER SQ FT$444.00CITATIONCombined-Level School CitationFEATURED IN2014 Architectural Portfolio in central Harlem.


With lottery preference given to children living in the St. Nicholas Houses, HCZ's new LEED certified school building provides this community’s students with wrap-around services and a quality charter school education accommodating 1,300 K-12 students. HCZ's mission to enrich the lives of its students as well as benefit all of the community meant careful planning to develop dual-purpose spaces and access. A welcoming storefront entrance adjacent to the newly landscaped community courtyard allows public access to the gymnasium, cafeteria and the multipurpose rooms which are open during the evenings and weekends for after-school programs, healthcare and free community programs.


Surrounded by utilitarian 14-story red brick residences, a fresh approach to the exterior materials was planned for the school. The light, neutral shades of the progressive two-toned stacked bond brick pattern on the lower level and the bold colors of the curtain-wall frame and entry canopy create a lively and inviting presence on the street. A unitized aluminum rain screen system designed for the upper floors allowed for the rapid enclosure of the building envelope. Due to its off-site fabrication, concurrent to the erection of the superstructure, the tight construction schedule was met. Development of the 135,000-square-foot, five-story building required the reopening of adjacent 129th Street, which reintegrated the housing “super block” into the city grid and neighborhood.