They asked for blue, of course. As a result of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York’s request, the facade of the imposing New York City Police Academy building is constructed from aluminum panels painted a bluish tint to recall the familiar police shield logo. That’s a markedly urbane contrast to the surrounding postindustrial ticky-tack in the College Point neighborhood of Queens. The only reason for coming to this remote brownfield site, beyond LaGuardia Airport, used to be to retrieve your car from a municipal auto pound. Even now, there’s a brackish canal flowing between two of the building’s wings—being landscaped like a moat.
In the popular imagination, the words police academy may call to mind a sophomoric brand of movie humor. But these facilities are more important than ever today, when police-community relations are highly scrutinized, and training is life-or-death. New York’s academy, a seven-year project led by Perkins + Will with Michael Fieldman Consulting Architects, helps hopefuls to shape up, physically and mentally—building both muscle and grit—while ideally absorbing the values of good and effective service. “Police are bodyguards of the public realm,” firm-wide design director for interiors Joan Blumenfeld suggests. “Architecture with so much gravitas stands as a symbol of the commitment our city has made to training strong, competent first-responders.” That jibes neatly with firm’s own mission statement: “Ideas + buildings that honor the broader goals of society.”
The 730,000-square-foot academy certainly appears monumental. An austere, grounded presence built for high-security, it’s intended not to reveal that. Universities and other models of openness were Blumenfeld’s inspirations, since few other academies have been built from scratch at this scale. Nevertheless, she kept in mind that the police are a paramilitary organization. “They wouldn’t say they’re ‘friendly.’ They would say they’re ‘accessible,’” she explains.
And sustainable. City policy already demanded LEED Silver, but she sought enough extra credits, including one for active design, to get to Gold. Indeed, the building is not only inspiring to walk through but also aerobic.
It takes more than 5 minutes to stride from one end of the ground level’s central promenade to the other, where the cafeteria rises to double-height. Natural light enters both through a window wall and through a skylight, so sunshine plays on the stained-maple paneling. “The palette is not so relentlessly cold,” Blumenfeld points out. Giving texture to the ceiling of the auditorium, a flotilla of translucent white resin panels, cast in a fractal panel, glows from the fluorescents installed above. Cascading from the ceiling of the atrium, meanwhile, suspended on near-invisible wire, are clear acrylic squares bearing grids of frosted dots lit by color-changing LEDs hidden in the acrylic’s stainless-steel frames. That installation came courtesy of the city-mandated art budget.
Aside from those flourishes mounted high overhead, where they can never be touched, the interior is as low-maintenance and indestructible as possible. Tile climbing the walls, in a vertical running-bond pattern, is actually floor tile—with either a gray metallic finish or a glaze resembling rusted steel. As recruits are up and down the wide stairs over and over again in the course of a training day, balustrades are perforated stainless. (No paint to touch up.)
Despite such limits on material and colors, life came in. The design, never “pretty,” is frequently beautiful. Great swaths of terrazzo, for circulation spaces, incorporate a grain of sparkle. “With so much floor, you don’t want it to look dead,” she explains, adding that plans for carpet to soften the office areas upstairs were scotched by the police. “It just wasn’t them.”
The occasional gesture might be perceived as almost playful. Because officers may be called to dive for evidence in murky water, she surfaced the scuba training pool with gray tile. Gloomy by design. Physical training also involves laps around the running track in the nearly 300-foot-long main gym. More than a third of the space at the academy is devoted to gyms.
Practical training happens upstairs, in mock environments including a street scene furnished with artificial trees, fake fire hydrants, and real squad cars on casters. There’s also a courtroom and a simulated convenience store, complete with shelves of what looks like boxed snacks. In fact, those boxes are empty, though you wonder if they really have to be. Who’d steal Nutter Butters under the steadfast gaze of the fuzz?
Anthony Fieldman; Paul Eagle; Laurie Butler; Peter Costanzo; Federico Del Priore; Breeze Glazer; Craig Graber; Lindsay Homer; Michael Ohlhausen; Ming Ming Ong; Dawn Pappas; Rachel Robinson; Scott Schiamberg; Filippo Soave; Steven South; Grace Tang; Gerald Vasisko; Deborah Young: Perkins + Will. Michael Fieldman; Don Flagg; Matt McClain; Youngsun Ko; Youmi Kim; Ana Cano-Villegas; Arjuna Balaranjan; John Adamek; Ed Rawlings; Jordan Yamada: Michael Fieldman Consulting Architects. Bartenbach; Hillman Dibernardo & Associates: Lighting Consultants. 212/Harakawa: Graphics Consultant. Cerami & Associates: Acoustical, Audiovisual Consultant. Counsilman-Hunsaker: Aquatic Consultant. Tactical Design: Training Consultant. Van Deusen & Associates: Elevator Consultant. Permasteelisa: Curtain Wall Consultant. Aecom: Geotechnical Consultant. FXFOWLE Architects: Land Use Consultant. Balmori Associates: Landscaping Consultant. Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers; Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers; Weidlinger Associates: Structural Engineers. Langan Engineering & Environmental Services: Civil Engineer. WSP Global: MEP. Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies: Flooring Contractor. STV; Turner Construction Company: General Contractors. Benjamin Moore & Co.: Paint.