The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Considerations for Storefront Rehabilitation

    Considerations for Storefront Rehabilitation

    It is often said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. First impressions have the ability to either make or break a business; the right first impression can draw potential customers in, while the wrong one can drive customers into the arms of competitors. A building’s storefront plays a crucial role in a store’s advertising and merchandizing, and as a result, the storefront has become one of the most important architectural features of many historic buildings. The sensitive rehabilitation of a building’s storefront can not only increase business, but contribute to efforts to revitalize neighborhoods.

    Keys to Success

    A key to the successful rehabilitation of historic storefronts, is the delicate treatment of each of its components. Significant storefront features, including windows, sash, doors, transoms signs and other decorative features, should be repaired, replaced in kind, or addressed by a compatible contemporary design in order to maintain the character of the building.

    Where a storefront no longer exists or is deteriorated beyond repair, a new storefront must be designed. New storefront elements should reflect the size, scale, color, material and character of the building. Before any work can begin, the Architect must establish a thorough understanding of the building’s architectural history and relationship to the streetscape. Old photographs, prints and physical components should be considered, and influence the form and details of the rehabilitation or new design.

    Whether restoration or redesign is the path of choice, it is important to keep design elements simple and to allow the architectural elements to speak for themselves. Signage and awnings should be kept free from visual clutter, and of modest size. The lighting elements considered should be warm and inviting, while the integration of physical security elements should be kept out of sight. It is also important to address areas of graffiti and vandalism, which can make customers feel unsafe or unwelcome.

    Understanding Regulations

    All historic properties in New York City must follow the rules and master plans outlined by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Restorative work can be approved at the staff level if it is based on documented historic precedents and does not involve the destruction of historic fabric. However, contemporary designs require a review before the full Commission at a public hearing.

    Additionally, any planned construction on a building’s storefront must follow the local building code. New York City building code is a set of regulations that governs everything from the size of the sign you can put up to the type of lighting fixture that can be installed. Building permits are required for awnings, marquees, flagpoles and signs larger than 6 square feet. It is important to consult your Architect regarding all relevant codes and required permits.

                Feel free to contact Scott Henson Architect to discuss your building’s historic storefront. 

  • Integrating the Past into a Modern City

    Integrating the Past into a Modern City

    As the nature of cities has changed over time, so has the role that architecture has played in urban planning. Architecture is the construct which allows cities to be both beautiful and functional. But what does this mean, and how does architecture answer?

    During the nineteenth century, the urban centers in America were compared unfavorably with European cities. In Europe, cities were anchored by large cathedrals and public spaces, such as gardens and plazas, grand and ornate architecture from the past. In reaction, the City Beautiful movement arose in the US, culminating in the White City at the 1893 World's Fair. It was an attempt to instill some of the formal beauty, linear perspective, and stateliness of European grand cities onto American architecture.

    While many architects pushed back against this method of looking to the past for urban models, the movement did adapt to American spaces with planning that included parks, greenways, water elements, and other public spaces that reflected the American landscape's particular beauty. These public spaces were meant to fulfill the functions of European public plazas or formal gardens. They were areas for community, formal activity, meeting and information exchange.

    However, these new methods were not as successful as in theory. A concrete plaza with some benches and a fountain in front of a set-back Manhattan office building will never draw the social crowds that a small piazza hidden among the streets of Rome will welcome. In the same way, you will not see two pedestrians pausing for a quick chat on Fifth Avenue nearly as often as you’ll encounter this on the winding, narrow streets of Prague.  This has everything to do with scale. Modern architecture, although originally guided with the correct intentions, lost touch with the human along the way. Designers became more interested in discovering new philosophies and making bold statements than focusing on the daily interactions of the user.

    There is a reason why people still flock to old cities in Europe and historic downtown areas right in the United States. Buildings and streets were designed at a comfortable human scale, with shopfronts and other public uses built right into the street level. Work, home, and social spaces were all within walking distance of each other, creating vibrant communities. Of course, there are many modern needs that are not met in these historic models. We are a larger world with more people and active economies, leading our buildings to grow in size and diminish in ornament over the decades. We require modern technology and energy efficiency, making mechanical systems one of the most important aspects of any building designed today.

    However, there is a way we can meet modern needs while preserving the advantages of historic architecture and neighborhoods: It is through restoration and adaptive reuse of buildings and downtowns. Reusing what we already have is really the most urbanistic and environmentally conscience decision. Historic buildings can be retrofitted with mechanical systems, increased insulation value, and modern conveniences. Soaring glass and steel towers are not the only buildings well-suited for the modern world. Even in “new” cities like New York or Chicago, some of the oldest buildings are the most loved and the most successful.

    As specialists in historic preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse, we here at Scott Henson Architects know that these historic buildings can become perfectly useable for your businesses and homes, with all of the character, history, and comfort of the past. We will always be looking for the next great thing in architecture, as in any type of design, but it is important to not forget the resources we already have. We look forward to working with you on your next project.