April 10, 2015
Grafting a vertical expansion onto a Landmark infamous for graft
The unassuming hipped roof of the former Tammany Hall headquarters on Union Square will soon turn to glass and grow taller with an unconventional shell-like dome, as approved recently—unanimously—by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. BKSK conceived this expansion to be deeply respectful, and expect it to be applauded by many as both reverent and intriguing. As a preservation approach, it is designed to yield unexpected insight about the building’s hidden history. We acknowledge that some members of the preservation community have reservations about the changes proposed and we are keeping the dialogue with them open. That the Commission approved an addition as visible as this to an individual Landmark is special and rare.
The building, located at the northeast corner of the square, is the last remaining headquarters of the defunct political machine, Tammany Hall, which presided there from 1929 to 1943. This 3-1/2-story masonry volume with neo-Georgian ornamentation and capped with a half-story hipped roof was inspired by American Colonial and Federal buildings of the organization’s early days, most notably the original Federal Hall on Wall Street. In comparison to Tammany Hall’s previous East 14th Street headquarters (where the Consolidated Edison Office Building is today), which rose well above its neighbors and contained a lavish domed assembly hall, this edifice represents a much tamer, even tepid, rebranding of the organization—its name by then having become synonymous with corruption.
The contemporary dome,
inspired by a turtle’s shell,
is meant to symbolize Tammany
Hall’s inception as a social
club that promoted
nation-building ideals of the
Revolutionary War period.
Since 1943, the building has hosted various long and short-term tenants including the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Roundabout Theater and the New York Film Academy. The existing auditorium space is inefficient for today’s theater productions, according the theater’s management. The proposed work is intended to bring greater flexibility of use, along with a much-needed facelift.
In 2013, Tammany Hall was designated an individual landmark for possessing “a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest, and value as part of the development, heritage, and cultural characteristics of New York City.” Such recognition bestows the building protection from demolition and inappropriate alterations. It’s this latter protection that has triggered much debate within the preservation community about Tammany Hall’s future.
BKSK’s proposal—as presented by partner Todd Poisson, the project’s lead design architect, and collaborating partner Harry Kendall, to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on March 10, 2015—is a restoration and expansion of the historic building, which in addition to sensitively restoring the façades, includes new bronze storefronts in the likeness of what was originally there but since lost, and a 2-story rooftop addition, composed of a self-supporting dia-grid dome atop a reconstructed hipped roof of steel-and-glass with gray terra cotta sunshades.
The contemporary dome, inspired by a turtle’s shell, is meant to symbolize Tammany Hall’s inception as a social club that promoted nation-building ideals of the Revolutionary War period. It is inspired by the organization’s very name, which honors Tamanend, chief of the Lenape who was widely revered from the late 17th to early 19th centuries. The turtle represents his clan, symbolizing the Lenape creation myth of a great turtle rising from the water to create land. The transformative dome addition has been carefully studied in regards to compositional coherence, and was presented as part of a domed-addition tradition that includes Jefferson’s Monticello and the Devonshire Royal Hospital. When viewed head-on from the west side of the square, the dome will appear hemispherical—nearly classical. When viewed obliquely from 17th Street, though, the dome will reveal its symbolic character and mark the original location of Tammany Hall’s front entrance.
As a firm, BKSK welcomes any opportunity to develop a visual, meaningful dialogue between contemporary and historic architecture. We believe that many structures, Tammany Hall among them, can accommodate change and vertical expansion without a loss of integrity. Rather, this manner of unexpected juxtaposition can heighten the public’s perception of a building’s significance. Our goal is to make the northeast corner of Union Square come alive in a way that it never was, but perhaps always hoped to be.
For more information about this project, please contact Marissa Marvelli, Marketing Director, mmarvelli[at]bksk.com