September 29, 2015

Jack Esterson Designs Film and Video Department for Pratt

“Animation and video have become like the written word. Whatever field you’re in, you’ll need them to communicate,” Jorge Oliver says. With enrollment booming at Pratt Institute’s film and video department, which Oliver chairs, students and faculty were getting cramped in their old quarters in Clinton Hill, so Pratt freed up space by taking the campus store and relocating it—on the Internet.

That left a 15,000-square-foot prefab metal building empty, waiting to be transformed by Pratt alumnus Jack Esterson, assisted by two other alumni associates. At the time, Esterson was a design partner at WASA Studio, which has since filed for bankruptcy. (He now practices at Think! Architecture and Design.)

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Despite Pratt’s myriad requirements for the facility—a recording studio, a sound stage with an “infinity” green- screen for video shoots, a screening room, and more—Esterson was determined to maintain the big-box feeling of the 23-foot-tall column-free interior. He accomplished that by designing independent volumes that either seem to float or, in some cases, actually do in order to create acoustical separation. The most prominent volume, the screening room, owes its angled shape to the raked seating inside.

To give the volumes their own identities, he turned to his long-ago teacher Haresh Lalvani, now a Pratt architecture professor and sculptor. Lalvani used algorithms to devise a series of shapes that could be cut out of the aluminum now wrapping each volume, reflecting the activity within. Shapes for the recording studio’s panels, for instance, suggest sound waves. Installing the aluminum 1 1/2 inches away from the supporting walls, then lighting the perforations from below, also creates depth.

In contrast to the opaque aluminum compositions, the volumes’ upper levels and the mezzanine’s offices and classrooms are all fronted in translucent glass. A building for filmmakers should reflect different ways of using light, Esterson explains, adding that there’s a reason he chose mostly grays for the interior: “The color in a film school really needs to come from the students’ films.” Here, flatscreen TVs display student work in continuous rotation.

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