The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Bringing new life to former Brooklyn coffee warehouse

    Jessica Dailey reports for Curbed: Inside Dumbo's Abandoned Empire Stores Before Its Makeover.

    More than six decades have passed since Dumbo's Empire Stores warehouses served a purpose, but by the end of next year, the abandoned coffee warehouses will be home to tech and fashion companies, marquee retailers, and "the who's who" of restaurateurs. Developer Midtown Equities, which won the development bid from Brooklyn Bridge Park last summer, is currently giving the brick buildings new life. STUDIO V designed two modern additions for the top, as well as an open-air courtyard that slices through the middle, but largely, the two buildings, dating to 1869 and 1885, will be preserved. 

    The developer always planned on keeping historic elements like coffee chutes and hoisting wheels, and the commercial tenants that plan to lease the space (no new names were given) fully support that plan. Jack Cayre, founder of Midtown Equities, said many companies wanted the space as-is, strewn-about coffee beans and all. While that won't be happening, Curbed recently took a trip inside the historic warehouses, and suffice it to say that these will be some of the coolest office spaces in the city. The Empire Stores warehouses are actually seven individual buildings, which were built at different times as four-story and five-story structures.


    Each building's faded number is still visible on the exterior. The shorter building is older, having been completed in 1869, while the five-story building dates to 1885. Engineers working on the redevelopment think that the schist used to create the walls inside the older warehouse was excavated from beneath the East River during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883.

    Both buildings will be six-stories with the new additions, and the four-story building will have a floor-to-ceiling open air courtyard sliced through it that will look something like this (rendering by STUDIO V). Cayre said they want "the new parts to look new" and juxtapose with the historic buildings. The ground floor will have eateries facing the park, including a yet-to-be-named Michelin star restaurateur, and retail in the rest of the space.


    Every window on the warehouse had large black shutters which have been removed and tagged. Most of the shutters are falling apart and beyond repair, but they'll be used in spaces throughout the buildings. Many tenants have also expressed interest in having them in their offices. New shutters have been made to fit the windows, which are all different sizes. 

    Part of the second floor of the development will host a museum dedicated to the history of coffee. Artifacts found in the warehouse, like these stencils that were used to write on the bags of coffee beans, will be displayed. The original floors on the ground level have been ripped out in preparation for new flooring. The concrete bases around the support columns were added during construction.


    All of the wood used in the original buildings is first cut pine. Since the building is located on the waterfront, a flood barrier system will be installed around the perimeter. This building, with its brick ground floor still intact, is still in the same shape that it was when it was last used as a coffee warehouse.

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    The upper levels have wooden floors and some of the best views any office could have. New windows will be placed on the inside of the building to not disrupt the look of it from the outside. Tenants will be able to have floorplates of up to 100,000 square feet. To make this happen, openings will be cut through the schist walls that separate the buildings. The rooftop is currently untouched. This is the top of the five-story building, so there will be a new office space here.

    The addition will be setback, so this office will have a private terrace. The four-story building, which will have a two-story addition sits in front of the Dock Street project. The open courtyard will be immediately beside the five-story building, and a public rooftop terrace will wrap around it. There will also be a rooftop beer garden. The public rooftop terrace will look like this. You can see the brick wall of the five-story building on the far side, and the glassy two-story addition of the shorter warehouse. The rooftop office spaces will lease for $90 to $100 per square foot, a price unheard of in Brooklyn. 

    Midtown Equities plans to turn the spaces over to the tenants by the third quarter of 2015, and at that time, the public spaces and rooftop would open. Every retail space is spoken for, but Midtown Equities has not released the names of the restaurants or shops. West Elm signed on as an anchor tenant for 10,000 square feet of offices and retail space. They paid in the high $40s to low $50s per square foot, setting a record for the borough.


    And here's what it will look like when the whole thing is done. You can read the whole article and see more photographs here.

  • Landmark adaptive reuse with a twist

    Aaron Seward reports for The Architect's Newspaper: IN DETAIL> 837 WASHINGTON STREET. 

    Morris Adjmi adds a twisting topper to a meat packing landmark.

    The design of the addition's exoskeletal structure references Greenwich Village's Street grid.

    The orthogonal street grid of New York City’s Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 collides with Greenwich Village’s wickerwork layout at 14th Street. While everything above that mark is rectangular blocks, below there is a series of odd triangular leftovers in the urban fabric. The difference between these two conditions served as the primary inspiration behind Morris Adjmi Architects’ design of 837 Washington Street, a 54,000-square-foot spec commercial building developed by Taconic Investment Partners at the corner of 13th Street in the Meat Packing District.

    The site was home to an existing brick building that was once used for the purpose that gives the neighborhood its name. Two stories tall on Washington Street, it steps down to one story on 13th and is distinguished by a two-tone brick facade and a now-restored steel canopy—one of the hallmarks of a district that is protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Required to preserve this piece of history, but eager to wring out every bit of allowed floor area, Taconic asked Adjmi to design an extension for the top of the structure. Adjmi—who has built up quite a repertoire of expansion projects of this sort—responded with a modern addition that looks to the area’s high-design newcomers (High Line, Standard Hotel, Whitney Museum, etc.) as much as it does to its industrial heritage.

    If the existing building represents the right angles of the Commissioners’ Plan, the rooftop extension expresses the village street condition. “The notion,” said Adjmi, “was to create a space where two buildings can coexist, rather than one being an addition to the other.” The expansion rises five levels above the brick building’s first story. Roughly square shaped, each floor is slightly smaller in area to the one below it and is rotated slightly in plan. This leaves triangular spaces outside of each floor’s divided light window wall, much like the triangular plazas found throughout the Village, which will be planted, drawing a connection to the neighboring High Line.

    The expansion is supported by a structural steel exoskeleton—another High Line reference—featuring sloped columns that, like the building’s floors, twist in plan as they go up the elevation. While this expression does indeed resemble the way the Village streets veer off from the straight-as-an-arrow avenues coming down from uptown, it also created a structure that wanted to rotate and fall over. The structural engineers at Gilsanz Murray Steficek (GMS) were hard pressed to design an efficient and cost-effective scheme that would stand up against its live and dead loads.

    Rotating each floor in plan opened up triangular exterior sections that will be planted. 

    The solution mixes a conventional system with custom elements. Conventionally, the building is supported by a perimeter moment frame with a braced frame core, which is situated at the interior-most corner of the lot. Custom elements include built-up plate girders for the spandrel beams that were designed to handle the stresses imposed by the torqued shapes while maintaining the look desired by the architect. The columns themselves are spliced at every floor, rather than every other floor, and rotated five degrees to create a twisting profile. Intumescent painted and epoxy coated in black, the sloping columns meet new vertical columns that run through the existing building down to a newly dug basement and onto a freshly poured matt foundation.

    Having the majority of the structure on the exterior and in the core allowed the designers to only use three columns on the interior, opening up more useable floor space. This did create thermal bridging issues, however, and so non-conductive shims were used to create thermal breaks between inside and outside. To maximize floor-to-ceiling heights the engineers also staggered the placement of the metal decking, allowing them to keep floor-framing members down to W12s. Since the structure also serves as the architectural expression, GMS worked with Adjmi to detail the connections between members. “We worked closely with Morris to develop the connection details, doing isometric drawings and going back and forth on bolt issue, where we usually release that to the fabricator,” said Joseph Basel, GMS partner in charge of the project. “It was a great project and really interesting for us.”