In this famous district of Manhattan, a project on two levels grafts new elements into the rigid structure of its host building. A face-off between signs of the past and compositional choices of the present, to create a space open to the sky

TriBeCa is the abbreviation of Triangle Below Canal Street, the zone of Lower Manhattan bordered to the north by the street that leads to Chinatown. Tribeca, like adjacent SoHo (South of Houston Street), has gone through a process of gentrification that has transformed it over time, from the end of the 1960s to the present: its character has shifted from a semi-industrial area of warehouses to a fashionable zone full of shops and culture, consolidated over the years, including the TriBeCa Film Festival, of international renown, launched by Robert De Niro, who owns a film production center of the same name in the district, as well as bars and restaurants.


Charles Wolf and Kathryn Dean
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New York City-based Dean/Wolf Architects have been praised for their uncanny ability to turn architectural constraints into powerful generators of form. Kathryn Dean and her office have completed residential and institutional projects at a variety of scales. The projects are distinguished by a highly thought-provoking manipulation of light and space. The firm’s award-winning loft interiors are small-scale wonders precisely crafted from sensual materials such as concrete, steel, maple, and glass.

Tribeca resembles SoHo today in terms of its residential offerings, based for the most part on the conversion of an existing architectural heritage, in a face-off with traces of urban history. But there are also major operations of urban ‘replacement,’ such as the exclusive residential tower at 56 Leonard Street (2017) by the studio Herzog & de Meuron, built where the New York Law School once stood, inserting a new 57-story skyscraper that boasts the most expensive penthouse in the city, sold for 47 million dollars.

This is the context for the project by the firm Dean/Wolf Architects for a loft on the upper levels (sixth and seventh) of one the traditional warehouse buildings from the last century, which still form the urban fabric and architectural image of the area. The loft is inserted in compositional terms in the long narrow plan of the building, whose long sides are without openings (attached to the neighboring buildings) while the short sides have windows, joined by a precious gap along one of the long sides. Taking advantage of the possibility of working on the roof of the existing volume – transformed with the construction of a domestic pavilion to create a welcoming small penthouse set between two new terraces – the spaces below capture brightness from skylights and careful openings that offer views of the sky across the hours of the day.

The project comes to terms with the memory and forms of the existing building, activating a process of transformation that does not attempt to erase the traces of urban history."

The entrance from the elevator opens onto the living area, organized along the main front of the sixth floor and directly connected to the dining room, followed by the kitchen and – at the back – the zone with two bedrooms, one of which has its own bathroom. The living-dining-kitchen and wardrobe sequence, connected in a unified composition, is marked by the forceful feature of the new slab in reinforced concrete, alongside the wooden framework of the original structure, exposed to view and restored.

The new structural slab is interrupted at the position of the ribbon staircase, also in concrete, supported by steel rods and leading to the upper level, while creating a sculptural movement produced by the 90-degree rotation of part of its surface, transforming into a beam that continues towards the bedroom zone. In the dining area, besides the wooden ceilings, the project has revealed the original brick of the blank wall, creating an effective material and structural contrast with the fair-face concrete of the new slab and the staircase, but also with the floor in smoothed concrete, like the custom island kitchen.

Taking advantage of the possibility of working on the roof of the existing volume – transformed with the construction of a domestic pavilion to create a welcoming small penthouse set between two new terraces – the spaces below capture brightness from skylights and careful openings that offer views of the sky across the hours of the day."

In the new pavilion of the penthouse another living area with a suspended steel fireplace is placed beside a guestroom. The volume is enclosed by two terraces created on the roof: the one to the south, larger and sunnier, defined by a perimeter of green plantings and the forceful geometric signs of the horizontal skylights, has been designed in continuity with the living area, from which it is separated by a continuous glazing with wooden casements. The one to the north, with the same finishes and also with planters at its edges, corresponds to the guestroom. In the organization of a complete residential unit, the project comes to terms with the memory and forms of the existing building, activating a process of transformation that does not attempt to erase the traces of urban history.

Project Dean/Wolf Architects - Photo Paul Warchol