Our focus for the semester centered around the Dyckman Farmhouse at the corner of 204th and Broadway in the neighborhood of Inwood at northern tip of Manhattan. Unlike most historic house museums, the Dyckman Farmhouse enjoys a unique position within its community, eschewing the staged furniture and boundary ropes for a tactile and adaptive use of the space. Upon our many visits there, we never experienced a lull in activity. One day there was a bluegrass concert on the back porch, another an after-school math study session, and on another an art workshop. The directors of the house, granted a decidedly surprising amount of freedom by the NYC Parks Department and the Historic House Trust, have enacted the philosophy of “The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums”, a book which calls for a radical rethinking of the role of the these historic sites and their curation and programming practices, rejecting the conservative current practices.
While it’s evident the house maintains a strong relationship with the community, the physical spaces and environment of the site has little reciprocity with these functions. Resultingly, the farmhouse’s role as a community center is only a result of the tenure of its directors, placing it in a precarious position.
Additionally, the physical structure of the farmhouse suffers from the many stresses from the city that has grown up around it. The degraded roof, a result of the surrounding buildings shading the site for much of the year and preventing moisture in the shingles from evaporating, occupies much of the concern of the preservationists of the Historic House Trust.
Our design seeks to utilize the current systems and resources available to create an architectural intervention which cements the community programming of the directors while also addressing the major structural issues of the house and site. This intervention takes two paths: the schist and the shingles.
The history of northern Manhattan, once owned entirely by the Dyckman family, has collapsed into the small site we have today, forming a type of vault for the extensive collection of historical objects and narratives of the entire area. With our proposal we hope to reverse this sequence and expand the territory of the farmhouse back out into its urban surroundings.
Can you please introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Naiomy Rodriguez, I’m the Director of Education here at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
I started working at the Morris-Jumel Mansion which has more of an, I would say, upscale interiors and programming.
Do you live in the neighborhood?
Yes, I do! I’ve been in this neighborhood most of my life.
Can you start by describing the programming of the house?
We do a lot of rotating exhibits and a lot of free educational programs. We are located in a neighborhood which is currently under-served and a lot of people here are looking for things to do that will broaden their childrens’ minds. We provide a math program, we provide sleep camp at a very low cost which also includes schoarlships that can help to pay for it, we do read-alouds , we participate with DOE on various projects that we can provide like free after-school programming. It’s all very educationally based, broadly. Whatever the community needs we try to provide.
Have you noticed a difference in the use of the house by the people from the East versus the West side of Broadway?
The West knew about us already, this was prior to me coming here. Reaching out to that population of younger families who recently moved to this area, they were pretty much comfortable with coming here. East of Broadway families who have been here for many years, had never heard of us. But they are beginning to now. Before, they would come in and ask: “Do you live here?”. And, I would respond, like “oh my gosh, no! Please come with me, I’ll show you the museum, tell your families and your friends!”
Are there any structural issues with the House?
There’s a constant moisture problem, and that is something that cant be remedied unless we redo the whole thing as it was originally built, all we can do now is maintain it so that it doesn’t become an issue.