The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Park Avenue Armory

    Herzog & de Meuron
    Pattern Language: In an ongoing restoration and renovation of a New York City landmark, the architects bring subtlety and boldness to the process.

    By Suzanne Stephens

    Certain modern architects view the restoration of historic buildings like an archaeological dig that exhumes alterations over time and places the resulting evidence on display. Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron (with Platt Byard Dovell White as executive architect) approached the restoration of the Park Avenue Armory between 66th and 67th Streets in New York in this manner. The architects also introduce an intriguing process where their own interventions add a new layer to their exposure of the sediments of history.

    The Armory, a Gothic Revival brick fortress designed by Charles Clinton in 1880 for the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard, required repair work on the exterior along with requisite infrastructural and code-compliant upgrades. In addition to the revitalization of a 55,000-square-foot drill hall, the team confronted an array of 18 period rooms originally fitted out by legendary designers, architects, and decorators such as Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, Stanford White, and the Herter Brothers. Some of the art-encrusted rooms used by the affluent volunteers to the National Guard remain almost intact; others were shabbily altered. In 2006, the nonprofit Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, with Rebecca Robertson as president and executive director, leased the five-story structure from the state to create an adventurous arts venue for dance, theater, and art performances, plus exhibitions, along with artists-in-residence studios. (And it will still continue to house 100 homeless women in its upper reaches.) The $200 million restoration—of which $84 million has been spent—is expected to be completed in five years.

    While the Conservancy wanted to keep the lushness of the late-19th-century architecture and design, Robertson feared the stiffness and embalmed quality of meticulous period restorations. She turned to Herzog & de Meuron, impressed by the firm's inventive deployment of materials, surfaces, and craft in its work. “Seeing the copper-clad Signal Box in Basel [1995] was crucial,” she says. In the fall of 2011, two period rooms by Herzog & de Meuron opened to the public. As partner Ascan Mergenthaler explains, the team worked with each room's basic identity, choosing not to eliminate all traces of later modifications. The idea was to show the evolution of the rooms “as a wash of time,” in Robertson's words. The tortuous task involved delayering (manually or chemically stripping recent accretions from the surfaces) as well as overprinting (see below), which simulates abstractly underlying patterns—in addition to cleaning and restoration. With the second floor's Renaissance Revival room for Company D, designed in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus, the team restored the original mahogany woodwork, plus a herringbone parquet floor that replaced the 1880 one.

    Originally, the ceilings and walls were stenciled, but later had been covered by Adamesque plaster scrollwork and painted, with other areas concealed by plasterboard. Where areas were damaged by the removal of the scrollwork and other scars of use, the team glazed the surface with a reddish field color discovered to be typical of the background's metallic paints. The stenciling under the plasterboard remained intact in the delayering. In the next part of the process, the architects printed a new pattern on top of the original circular stenciling to create an integrated tracery that picked up the background's copper tones. The stenciled, laser-cut pattern appears distinct from the original stenciling owing to its abstraction of basic geometric shapes, but retains the size and proportions of existing patterns, albeit emphasized with a metallic shimmer. The architects also designed a chandelier similar in proportion to the original gaslit one, but this time with copper arms and tinted-glass globes over halogen lamps. New copper chain-link curtains add a gleam to the room while shielding glare from the windows (aided by window coverings).

    All of this subtle surgery creates an evocative space for small dinners and receptions and requires more than one keen glance to know that a modern architect was there. Another room on the second floor, for Company E, also decorated in 1880 by Pottier & Stymus in the Renaissance Revival style, offers an easier setting in which to detect the presence of the modern architect. A new gridded bronze lighting fixture dominates the space. Here, too, Herzog & de Meuron removed the Tudor Revival plaster strapwork and wallpaper, added in 1892, to reveal the earlier stenciling, and repaired damaged spots with plaster in a copper field color matching the surroundings. Since the room will be used for small theatrical and musical performances, the team wanted a lighting fixture that could be raised and lowered. While the modern fixture seems ungainly in comparison with the firm's more nuanced gestures, it fits in with the raw, austere look of the cleaned oak paneling. One of Herzog & de Meuron's more daring future proposals concerns the Colonel's Reception Room on the south side of the first floor, originally designed by the Herter Brothers. Its French black walnut paneling has remained reasonably intact, yet almost everything above a certain datum is too far gone to be delayered. So the architects suggest covering upper woodwork—which had been added later—plus walls and ceiling with a removable white paint. Since the space is planned to be used as a conductor's suite and for other events, the mixed time warp arguably would provide an arresting backdrop. Nearby they envision converting a room into a copper-lined “megavator” to take heavy loads to the second floor, and for a moving performance space.

    Not every move is as provocative: Herzog & de Meuron is making few visible interventions in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, now the arena for a number of theatrical and dance productions. Nevertheless, the firm hopes to strip the lower parts of the hall to reveal the full arc of the room's barrel-vaulted cast-iron trusses. Then on the first floor, the Field and Staff Room, also designed by Pottier & Stymus, replete with taxidermied animal heads, will be redone as a bar, with a new copper ceiling, chandelier, and fittings. The architects' proposal for the mostly intact library on the other side of the main corridor involves taking the room originally designed by Louis C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, with a young Stanford White as consultant, back to its 1880 decorative scheme, lost in part after its conversion to a trophy gallery.

    For its new use as an archive for the history of the Armory, Herzog & de Meuron plans to repaint the ceiling where the original panels are too far gone, and reinstate bookshelves. The restoration should complement the intact Veterans Room next door, also executed by Tiffany, White, et al. The architects' efforts so far have generated a refulgent ambience with a warm coppery glow, a burnished gleam in the walls and ceilings, and a lustrous sheen of the wood paneling. As Jorge Otero-Pailos states (page 42), Herzog & de Meuron's work specializes in echoing the original, transformed by time.

    The ingenious approach shows that today's modern architects can still capture a sense of the new, while enhancing and revivifying the old.

    Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

    Executive Architect: Platt Byard Dovell White

    Location: 643 Park Avenue, New York, USA

    Completion Date: (partial) October 2011

    Gross square footage: 190,000 square feet

    Cost: $84 million to date

    Read more...
  • Restoration Redux

    Restoration Redux Photo © Christian Richters At the Neues Museum in Berlin, David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap saw history as a series of layers, both old and new.

    Top architects are tackling historic buildings in surprising ways.

    By Jorge Otero-Pailos Preservation has returned to the center of architectural theory and practice, after languishing in the margins for over half a century. Just a decade ago, it would have been impossible to think that the stakes of the field would be set by projects like David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap's restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin, Diller Scofidio + Renfro's subtle morphing of Lincoln Center and the High Line in New York, Rem Koolhaas's forensic preservation of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or Herzog & de Meuron's adaptation of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Back then, such figures rarely involved themselves in preservation—not simply because they had defined their careers through new construction, but because they saw it as rather unimaginative work. Now these architects approach preservation projects with anxious care. It is as if preservation were the hardest move, the piked double Arabian with full twist, of architectural gymnastics. If so, then a profound reordering of the criteria for judging architectural excellence is taking place. What makes the Neues Museum shocking is the level of restraint the architects demonstrated, at a time when it was common to hire world-class designers precisely to intimidate preservation commissions into allowing egregious “adaptations” of historic buildings into contemporary “icons.” Against the grain of the grand gesture, Chipperfield and Harrap opted for the precision of discreet interventions. Their design consisted mostly of removing historically insignificant elements. When they did add, they did so to enhance what was there, as one adds salt to bring out the flavor of a dish instead of covering it with sauce. For instance, they added subtle tints to the lacunae in decorative patterns to reintegrate the losses into a complete image. Even the most emphatically new elements, like the grand staircase, echo the form of the lost original. This echoing approach to situating architecture is a key departure from previous models. An echo is by definition not a facsimile of the original voice, and therefore not a “restoration” in the traditional sense. It is the return of that voice from the future, transformed by the time that separates it from the original. An echo cannot return the original in its pure form. It returns a cleft original, bearing the dividing mark of a split temporality that cannot be easily located as part of the present. The Neues Museum was brought back deceptively intact, but in fact profoundly changed. Prior to the High Line, “adaptive reuse” was invariably understood to mean the process whereby an old building suffered changes for the satisfaction of new uses according to a fixed logic of contemporary architecture. With the High Line, the meaning of the term began to shift to signify the mutual adaptation of contemporary architecture and old buildings to each other. The shift is subtle but important because it implies a revision of one of our discipline's foundational ideas: that contemporary architecture comes into existence through its confrontation with building. We had taken it as a given that the word “building” stood for new construction. Now it is clear that contemporary architecture can also emerge by adapting an old construction. The old criterion that new architecture was only possible through a new building is dead. Koolhaas's master plan to update the Hermitage Museum, in time for its 250th anniversary in 2014, is another example of producing contemporary architecture through (as opposed to next to, or on top of) old buildings. Koolhaas claims to avoid “declarative architectural interventions,” and turns to preservation for a new form of expression. His strategy is to forensically retain all traces of the old buildings, even the dusty showcases, but to relocate every object, leaving some rooms empty in anticipation of what the future may bring. So he expresses contemporary architecture as an ephemeral process more than a permanent object, a way of opening (old) buildings to new meanings. The Hermitage signals another important new direction, away from the past as history and toward questions of temporality. In the wake of Postmodernism, we are more aware and critical of the way the past is constructed. Yet we are beyond the Postmodernist antics of simply denouncing the artificiality of the past, or reproducing it ironically. The past is never delivered pure, but always comes as reconstructed evidence. We know that our answer to what makes architecture emerge within a building will be incomplete. The last word will be delivered retroactively from the future. This circumspect attitude toward the past makes contemporary architecture not just more open to what the future might bring, but more concerned with temporality, rather than the “imageability” of space and form. The challenge is that our architectural understanding of the temporal is not as sophisticated (yet) as that of the spatial and formal dimensions of building. We are only beginning to develop the critical tools to understand the aesthetic expression of architectural temporality in political, cultural, and ethical terms. So far, time has been explored mostly as a “natural” aspect of buildings, manifested in weathering and other changes in their appearance. Yet it is also the enabling element of “cultural” aspects of buildings. Consider that the role buildings can play in collective practices of remembrance and identity formation is a function of their longevity. Preservation involves designing and formalizing such practices, and as such, it helps people use buildings to imagine themselves as part of local communities, and even larger societies. Perhaps this is partly why contemporary architects have turned with new urgency to preservation, precisely in this historical moment of crisis, when the ethical bankruptcy of banking and the dysfunctionality of politics strain the social contract to the breaking point. Preservation is our repository of over two centuries of experiments in how to think about the temporal dimension of architecture in political, cultural, and ethical terms. Think of Ruskin's romantic defense of architectural “time-stains,” the patterns of dust deposited on old building stones according to the chisel marks of ancient stone carvers. His championed aesthetic cannot be dissociated from his left-leaning politics, for he saw every modernizing effort to resurface old buildings as an attempt to deny working-class craftsmen their rightful place in the history of architecture. Ruskin's lineage ran through the Arts and Crafts movement, but inverted its political inflection in the American hands of Louis Comfort Tiffany, famous for opulently patterned interiors. Herzog & de Meuron's attention to pattern is perhaps the closest that any contemporary architect may comfortably come to Tiffany. In restoring the interiors of the Armory, they deftly adapted their architecture to the old building, in an effort to open it to new political interpretations. The Armory's original, refined aesthetic reinforced social segmentation within the military, by making uneducated servicemen feel unwelcome. As the army democratized, the interiors were remodeled accordingly. Rather than recreating Tiffany, or imposing a new architectural language, the architects created a contemporary architectural aesthetic by overlaying traces of the pedestrian elements they removed as ghosted outlines, such that their erasure seems incomplete. By keeping the ghosted layers of kitsch added by less refined middle-class officers, they both return the Tiffany originals and change their political charge to reflect the military's long (and imperfect) pursuit of social equity through meritocracy. Herzog & de Meuron return an echo of Tiffany in a palimpsest. Through preservation, they achieve an expression of architectural temporality that attends to the political ramifications of culture more than they have in any of their other works. Architects' shift from the pursuit of signature styles to a creative exploration of preservation enables them to deepen the significance of form and space through sharper expressions of temporality. In the process, architects are becoming more critically engaged in the inherited cultural, political, and ethical issues that define our moment, without feeling the need to celebrate or deny them. Our profession's current commitment to preservation will most likely not last long. Its impact on how we think about architecture and how we articulate our commitments through design, however, may well find echoes in the future. Jorge Otero-Pailos is an architect, artist, and associate professor of historic preservation at Columbia.

    Read more...

SEARCH

CONTACT US
1000 characters left