Brotherhood Sister Sol in Oculus


Brotherhood Sister Sol: In West Harlem, Urban Architectural Initiatives makes architecture for social change, Oculus, Summer 2022.

The young, fashionably dressed Black and brown teens hanging out on the front benches of Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis) in West Harlem give its new headquarters a particular power and resonance. Designed by Urban Architectural Initiatives, a minority-owned office co-founded by Tony Shitemi in 1996, the five-story structure is built for Black and Latinx youth. That alone is extremely telling, and it shows. The members of the youth mentoring, organizing, and training organization radiate a sense of ease and belonging.

“Their mission is to provide a space that fosters good health, good mental health, and good sense of well-being,” Shitemi says. “We took that up as the building being a tool to promote well-being and positive selfhood.”

The headquarters, which opened in May on 143th Street near Hamilton Place, replaced a three-story brownstone that had served the organization for roughly 20 years. As it grew, BroSis acquired the neighboring lot with plans to expand. With help from city and state funds along with foundations and private donors, it combined the lots into a single structure. The front façade’s formalistic skin syncopates opaque and translucent glass and tan limestone-colored panels to reference the fingers of a hand—reaching out to the community, giving a hand—offering a mixture of privacy and public visibility in daylit rooms.