BKSK's New Tammany Hall: New York's First Free Form Shell Gr

|Jul 28|magazine12 min read

NEW YORK, July 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- BKSK Architects announces the completion of the transformation of the former Tammany Hall headquarters building for Reading International (RDI), at the north east corner of Union Square Park in Manhattan. A new Class A commercial building with three floors of restored historic street facades, and a three-story glass and steel dome addition, the BKSK design was unanimously approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It expands the usable square footage of the historic building and adds an iconic anchor to Union Square.

As reimagined by BKSK, 44 Union Square commands attention - its former life as the last headquarters for the political machine, Tammany Hall, inspired a daring, iconic design that remembers New York City history while anchoring the Park with a proud monumental structure. The building's owner Reading International (RDI), purchased the building eighteen years ago, and advanced the current project thanks to a $57.5 million construction loan secured from Bank of Ozarks and Fisher Brothers. Supported by Edifice Real Estate Partners, BKSK and RDI have positioned the building to serve multiple tenants, or to become a single flagship location.

The origins of the Tammany organization include its namesake Chief Tamanend – once leader of the Lenape People – who signed a treaty of peaceful coexistence with William Penn in 1680. Using symbolism from the Lenape creation story, a glass dome inspired by the form of a rising turtle shell has been added to the building bringing an additional 30,000 sf to the interior. The contemporary dome is meant to symbolize Tammany Hall's long-forgotten background as a populist social club, promoting a voice for all.

The new design which turns the original hipped roofscape into a glass dome is respectful, intriguing, and meant to draw interest to the building and its historic past. The restoration and expansion of the building includes sensitively preserving two façades, new bronze storefronts in the likeness of the original 1928 design, and the 3-story rooftop addition, composed of a self-supporting free form shell grid dome atop a reconstructed hipped roof of steel-and-glass with dappled gray terra cotta sunshades. The hipped roof mitigates the dramatic profile of the dome which becomes less visible as the building is approached. Rigorous research was conducted by BKSK to select the glass for the dome which provides climate and light control while offering clear views from inside to the Park and beyond. To maximize useful sunlight while protecting against glare and unwanted solar heat gain, BKSK Architects led the analysis of insulating glass and solar illumination — along with studies of precedents in glass domes — to create an equally sustainable and memorable solution.

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.

According to Partner Todd Poisson, the project's lead design architect, "BKSK welcomes the 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."

The creative process began with the relationship between BKSK and the Lenape Center. Founding members of the organization which  "has the mission of continuing Lenapehoking, the Lenape homeland through community, culture and the arts", were consultants to the architects in creating a design which honors and fully represents the influence of Chief Tamanend and the Lenape People on the evolution of New York. In a recent interview by Urban Omnibus, Hadrien Coumans, a co-founder of the Lenape Center was quoted as saying:

"Tammany Hall is an example of how an architectural firm has, from the beginning, done everything in the best way to bring out a sense of recognition and place of honoring the original people. I credit Todd Poisson for having led the most thoughtful effort to include the Lenape every step of the way. We're very happy with the glass turtle dome roof, and it's rare to have an example in the city of thorough consultation that resulted in something that is really a new landmark.

"Tammany Hall, as a political organization, did not care for the well-being of the Lenape, and was using a romanticized notion of a chief. It's exciting to have an architectural firm realize the misappropriation of this name historically, but also see that there is an opportunity to bring in authentic, legitimate voice and representation into the story. That's more exciting than a monument — that's actually creating change."

BKSK Architects was honored to create a new inspiring building for the Union Square neighborhood, new commercial and retail space to invigorate the street experience at this corner, and to have that building stand as a monument to the Lenape and their homeland.

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SOURCE BKSK Architects