LPC Chair Mennakshi Srinivasan took a look back at significant adaptive reuse projects and how they forever changed the streetscape of the city for the better.

Preservation through Transformation

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is responsible for protecting architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites. It grants them landmark or historic district status, and regulates them once they’re designated. Since the Landmarks Law was enacted in 1965, LPC has designated almost 1,400 individual landmarks, 115 interior landmarks, 10 scenic landmarks, 109 historic districts, and 10 historic district extensions located throughout all five boroughs of New York City.

With such a vast mandate, AIANY Historic Building Committee Co-Chairs Caterina Roiatti, AIA, and Nancy Rankin, AIA, collaborated with LPC Executive Director Sarah Carroll to decide on the event’s topic – adaptive reuse. They then narrowed it down further to projects that were recently approved, currently under construction, or just completed, and included individual landmarks and historic district locations. However, prior to what’s new or on the boards, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan took a look back at significant adaptive reuse projects that were achieved before and after the enactment of the Landmarks Law, and how they forever changed the streetscape of the city for the better.

Jonathan J. Marvel, FAIA, of Marvel Architects, spoke of how he and his team had no playbook to guide them on how to transform the “beloved ruin” in the DUMBO Historic District into St. Ann’s Warehouse’s new theater. All that remained of the warehouse were bare brick walls – and those walls had to be protected. A new structure had to be created so the building would have a roof high enough to support ceiling lights and rigging, which meant the ceiling would have be taller than the brick walls. The solution: glass-brick walls appear to “float” above the historic brick façade. The theater, with its simple material palette of plywood (replaceable in case of flood) and concrete, is like a jewel box, with preserved archways that let in light and views. Though dwarfed by the Manhattan Bridge, the theater feels expansive inside.

Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA, of SHoP Architects, presented 111 West 57th Street. The project consists of the low-rise, landmarked Steinway Hall and an adjacent, new, super-slender, super-tall tower, which will have a mix of retail at the base and residential above. Because the tower was to be located in a historic district, the plan was reviewed by LPC. In designing the tower, the team asked themselves: “What is it about the building that we love?” One solution involved using historic materials in contemporary ways. The façade is a relief pattern of terra cotta, glass, and cast-bronze filigree and pilasters terminate as setbacks. Only eight feet wide at the top, the building will appear as if it is disappearing into thin air.

Harry Kendall, AIA, and Todd Poisson, AIA, partners at BKSK Architects, are working on the building that was once the home of Tammany Hall. In their research, they discovered the forgotten story of the Native American Chief Tamanend, which prompted the team to design a dome in the shape of a turtle in deference to the Lenape Indians.

Eran Chen, AIA, of ODA: Architecture, is working on a project that was once a sugar refinery built in 1898 on the Brooklyn waterfront in DUMBO. Half of the building was demolished in 1950, which created a preservation dilemma: How do architects preserve part of a building that doesn’t exist? The design team came up with the idea of having a façade that looked like crystallized sugar as an expression of the building’s history. LPC, however, deemed the façade of 86% glass and 14% steel too much for its historical locale, which resulted in a façade with less glass and more steel, which looks like the branches of a tree.

Frank E. Mahan, AIA, of SOM, works for a firm that has much experience working on Mid-century Modern buildings that have shown their age but are resilient enough to be adaptively reused. He is currently working on 1 Chase Plaza (1961), now known as 28 Liberty Street, which SOM originally designed. The firm literally knows the building inside out. Because the building no longer functions as a bank, this restoration is an opportunity to create more open space as a public amenity. What was once the bank’s cafeteria is being transformed into a below-grade plaza.

All of the presenting architects spoke of their positive relationship with LPC, and their appreciation for how the commission treats each project on a case-by-case basis. And in addition, they mused about what it must have been like to be an architect in the 18th, 19th, and early-20th centuries.

Event: Preservation through Transformation: A Review of Recent Adaptive Reuse Projects
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.10.15
Speakers: Nancy A. Rankin, AIA, Principal, John G. Waite Associates, Architects, Co-Chair. AIANY Historic Buildings Committee; Caterina Roiatti, AIA, Principal, TRA Studio Architecture, Co-Chair, AIANY Historic Buildings Committee; Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Jonathan J. Marvel, FAIA, Principal and Founder, Marvel Architects; Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA, Principal, SHoP Architects; Harry Kendall, AIA, and Todd Poisson, AIA, Partners, BKSK Architects; Eran Chen, AIA, Founder and Director, ODA: Architecture; Frank E. Mahan, AIA, Associate Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Organized by: AIANY Historic Buildings Committee
Co-sponsored by: Museum of the City of New York