Jack Esterson

Across industries, Pratt alumni have been influential in
reimagining and reshaping the way we live, responding
to the challenges, needs, and questions of their times. Part four of six from Prattfolio’s feature on Pratt alumni leading the way in a changing world highlights Jack Esterson (B.Arch. ’75): Urban Modernizer.

With ever-advancing technologies equipping architects and designers to promote green living in their work, ecological solutions are at the forefront of new development. But woven in with the pursuit of sustainably sourced materials and renewable energy options is an opportunity to reflect on architecture’s social benefit, and architect Jack Esterson has made this his career. A principal of Think! Architecture and Design, Esterson has helped alter the streetscapes of New York City—even on the Pratt Brooklyn campus—with designs that harness the power of sustainable technology and speak to the needs of individuals and communities alike.

Esterson studied at Pratt during a period of significant social change in the United States, “a time of political and artistic revolution, a questioning of everything,” he says. “Pratt had no singular dogma— in fact was antidogma—and instilled a pluralistic approach to creative problem-solving. This exposed me to an incredible range of philosophies and methodologies, which allowed me to form a strong personal compass of my own.”

Over the years, Esterson’s true north has been not only more ecologically responsible design, but design that improves communities, often leading him to work with nonprofits and social service organizations to create environments that support a shared humanitarian mission. “My studies at Pratt dovetailed with my own worldview, instilling a desire to marry artistic pursuits with social advocacy.”

Jack Esterson

Esterson’s recent project in Corona, Queens, involves a unique intersection of communities within a sustainable framework. The HANAC Corona Senior Residence, a project for New York City’s Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee, will be the first development of its kind in the United States to meet Passive House (PH) energy efficiency standards. Meanwhile, the 68 units for seniors will be situated atop a ground-floor preschool. “PH is a very rigorous design methodology that will ultimately contribute to the comfort and health of the senior residents while saving up to 75 percent of energy costs,” Esterson says. “And, with a preschool on the ground floor, the project will encourage an intergenerational mix.”

Financed under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York affordable housing plan, the structure will be one of the city’s largest PH buildings and also the first affordable housing built in Corona in more than 30 years.

With Pratt’s own Myrtle Hall, creating a link between the Brooklyn campus and the Clinton Hill community via the Main Street of Myrtle Avenue was a guiding principle alongside sustainability benchmarks that earned the structure LEED Gold certification. While energy harvesting, locally made and recycled materials, and conservation systems contributed to the building’s green status, Esterson incorporated aesthetic elements intended to foster a sense of neighborliness. The Myrtle Avenue facade of the building incorporates design elements, such as red brick, that echo the 19th-century architecture of Myrtle Avenue, and a glass atrium creates a visual channel from the Myrtle face of the building to the campus side—signifying access, connection, and inclusion.

These projects resonate with contemporary values of conservation and minimal impact, but Esterson describes the traditional fundamentals that also ground his practice. “We have a rather old-fashioned belief that architecture can be transformative toward changing people’s lives,” he says. “Our work at Think! is based on advancing design quality toward the goal of making New York a better place. And doing so in a sustainable way is crucial if we are to protect our 
environment as well.”

Originally published in “The Transformers” in Prattfolio (Spring/Summer 2017). Read the issue at www.pratt.edu/alumni.

Images: Myrtle Hall (top) and rendering of the HANAC Corona Senior Residence, designed by Jack Esterson, principal of Think! Architecture and Design