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Park Avenue Armory unveils design for multi-year project by Herzog and De Meuron
Restoration in progress in Company D at Park Avenue Armory. Photo: James Ewing, 2011.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Park Avenue Armory today unveiled the designs by Herzog & de Meuron for the renovation, restoration, and transformation of one of the country’s most important landmarks into a new kind of cultural facility and institution. The multi-year project reinvigorates the original design of the historic building, which includes the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall and an array of period rooms by some of the most innovative designers of the 19th century, while advancing the Armory’s mission, dedicated to the creation and presentation of visual and performing art that cannot be realized within the limitations of traditional performance halls and white-wall museums.

The Herzog & de Meuron design has been guided by the understanding that the Armory’s rich history and the patina of time are essential to its character and must be respected and built upon. Encompassing the Armory’s entire five-story building, the project will create new resources and a diversity of spaces for the Armory’s artistic, educational, and public programming, as well as Artist-in-Residence studios and rehearsal rooms, offering unique environments and amenities for artists and audiences alike. The program includes: the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and the former rifle range below it; eighteen period rooms on the first and second floors in the adjacent Head House; all public circulation spaces, including the grand hallways, staircase, and new elevators; new relocated office space on the third floor; a transformed fifth floor for rehearsal space; and back-of-house facilities on the lower level.

In conjunction with the announcement, Park Avenue Armory unveiled two restored period rooms on the second floor that illustrate Herzog & de Meuron’s approach to the Armory renovation, encompassing restoration work as well as the addition of new lighting elements, furniture, and surface treatments that complement the building’s original detailing and that enable these spaces to support the Armory’s artistic program and mission.

Since taking over the building in December 2006, Park Avenue Armory has invested $73 million to upgrade and restore the structure—which had been previously named by the World Monuments Fund among the “100 Most Endangered Historic Sites in World”—stabilizing the masonry, upgrading the infrastructure, and making the drill hall ready for arts productions, all in accordance with Herzog & de Meuron’s design plans. During the same period, Park Avenue Armory developed its artistic program and launched itself as a new arts institution that presents epic and immersive performing and visual art that cannot be mounted elsewhere in New York City.

“We turned to Herzog & de Meuron to help us create a distinct model for cultural buildings. Unlike single purpose concert halls or theaters, the Armory serves many art forms. In addition, it does not prescribe a fixed spatial relation between the art and the audience as traditional halls do: with audience members assigned to seats; artists on the stage removed from them; and a theater interior that disappears. Also, unlike conventional galleries or museum spaces, the rich history-laden Drill Hall and period rooms of the Armory do not provide a neutral or passive backdrop to the art. The strong context becomes a part of experiencing the work,” said Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of Park Avenue Armory. “We have found that the appetite for this kind of artistic freedom is enormous. Thus, we needed a design that would not to destroy the soul of the building, would respect the building’s historical substance and unique design assets, and yet would achieve the same level of design brilliance in this century as had been achieved in the original. We also needed a plan that would encourage artistic license and be cost-efficient. With subtlety and incredible attention to detail, and a deep understanding of how to make this new model function, Herzog & de Meuron have produced a design that will make the Armory one of the most breathtaking and innovative cultural buildings in the country.”

“Park Avenue Armory is a richly layered building of outstanding historical significance that is transforming into a contemporary cultural center for New York City,” said said architect Jacques Herzog, Founding Partner of Herzog & de Meuron. “We are treating the Armory like a living monument, preserving it for the future and above all reinventing it. Our method is not preservation in the traditional sense, where the original state of a building is reconstructed to simulate the historical original. Instead, we are revealing the physical traces the building has produced over time and developing highly specific responses to each space.”

“There are plenty of perfect stages and perfect white cubes for artistic productions. Part of what makes the Armory so unusual is that each room has its own identity and own history. Different designers, companies, colonels, and donors made decisions over a period of 130 years that define the singular character of a given room and space,” said Ascan Mergenthaler, Senior Partner of Herzog & de Meuron. “Our design vision embraces these differences. Instead of adapting each historic room for a specific purpose, we have left them as found spaces, encouraging artistic freedom and flexibility. We have also found discrete ways to insert all the functional spaces and the infrastructure necessary for the range of arts served here into the Armory. These modern interventions have their own language that relates to those in more delicate materials.”

Designed Herzog & de Meuron, with Platt, Byard, Dovell, White Architects, LLP, serving as Executive Architect, the current $200-million renovation and restoration project enables Park Avenue Armory to support a range of visual and performing arts programming in advancement of its mission. The design plan embraces the history, craftsmanship, and the inherent contrast of the Armory’s spaces, from the exuberance of its period room interiors to the strength and confidence of its soaring drill hall.

Wade Thompson Drill Hall
The adaptation of the Armory into a cultural facility starts with the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, which has been reinvented as a vast stage-house that can support productions anywhere within its cavernous space. The industrial aesthetic of this room stands in sharp contrast to the finely detailed period rooms in the Head House. When first built, the Armory’s drill hall showcased a muscular procession of iron trusses that bowed out from the ceiling to the floor. The Herzog & de Meuron design will reveal the full arc of the original truss-work by removing the existing lower walls, which were added in the mid-20th century, and by replacing the mezzanine levels on the north and south walls with wafer-thin 15-foot wide balconies. Under these balconies, a system of heavy curtains will allow the area to serve back-of-house functions for performances and productions, and provide acoustic absorption when required. Along the north and south walls at grade level, ten emergency fire exits in darkened copper will be added, recalling the long windows that were original to the building.

The new balcony on the west will be 24-feet wide to accommodate viewing, exhibition, and performance areas. The west wall of the drill hall that joins with the Head House will be cleaned and stabilized, and its porous pattern of long windows and balconies restored. On the east end of the drill hall, the existing raked balcony will be reconfigured and the seating replaced.

The cleaning and stabilization of the drill hall ceiling, completed in 2010, revealed traces of the original 1879 painted design by landscape painter Jasper Cropsey, which are now visible from below. The windows in the upper part of the hall have been improved thermally and acoustically, to provide an environment within the drill hall that is on a par with leading recital halls in the City. Interlaced into the 19th-century truss-work is a state-of-the-art production grid for lighting, sound, and power that allows programmatic flexibility in the hall.

In the basement of the drill hall, the former rifle range space will be converted and expanded to provide performer and artist support spaces, including dressing rooms, artist workshops, instrument storage and other essential backof-house functions. A conductor’s suite, green room, dressing rooms, wardrobe rooms, and production staff offices will also be created. A new entrance of 66th Street and Park Avenue will provide performances with a stage entrance and ADA access to the building.

The Head House
The plan for the five-story Head House that faces Park Avenue will rearrange the space to allow for public and artistic functions on the lower level, first, and second floors, and new rehearsal space on the fifth floor. The Armory offices will be relocated to the third floor, and an upgraded City shelter for women to the fourth floor.

The eighteen historic rooms on the first and second floors will be dedicated to artistic programming. In each room, the walls, ceilings, floors, and woodwork will be meticulously de-layered by conservators to remove the additions and dirt built up from over the years. The wood will be restored to its original finish, where possible. Missing elements in the painted surfaces patterns on the walls and ceilings will be filled in and, when appropriate, traceries applied to unify the space without perfecting it. These traceries are applied in metallic paints that recall those that were used heavily throughout the building in its original design.

The approach will also reinvigorate a holistic plan for each room through the integration of surfaces, lighting, and furniture. In each room, new elements designed by Herzog & de Meuron are added to achieve unity and functionality, including copper chainmail curtains that filter sunlight, copper furniture, and new copper or bronze lighting fixtures. New audio/visual, information technology, and other related production equipment will be discretely interwoven within the rooms to facilitate their flexible use for a range of purposes, from performances, art installations, artist studios, and educational activities, to concession areas and temporary cafés.

A defining component of the design process in the period rooms is the close collaboration between architect and artisan on the conservation, restoration, and renovation of each space. Highly skilled craftspeople working in wood, paint, plaster, and metals were employed in the creation of the building’s original interiors. The current plan draws upon the expertise—and hand—of similar artisans. “The architects, in consultation with the master craftsmen, will weigh every aesthetic decision to find the expression inherent in each room,” noted Robertson. “Each room has a unique design and history, and each has a different story to tell. When finished, the variety in the rooms in both original work and contemporary treatment will be astonishing.”

In the public areas, Herzog & de Meuron will reinforce the original quiet design. They will return the oak wainscoting in the corridors and the massive oak central stair to their original light honey color. They will reilluminate the main stair with lighting that will recall the building’s original skylight at the third floor and will add an undulating copper railing to make the staircase safe and subtly update its form. The large windows in the staircase that once borrowed light from the skylight will be sheathed in reflective copper and supplemental light will be provided to complement the refurbished torchieres and other original fixtures. The corridor walls and ceilings, in contrast to the very exuberant period rooms to which they connect, will be light-filled but restrained, with a dot pattern surface treatment that blends with the original neutral colors of the space.

The circulation in the building will also be improved through the introduction of a 455-square-foot copper clad elevator (the approximate size of one of the period rooms) that will connect the lower level, first, and second floors, and the balcony level at the drill hall. The elevator will be able to transport freight and art work as well as up to 96 visitors, and will also be able to function as a presentation space. In addition, it will serve as an additional entryway into the drill hall from the first floor.

The fifth floor of the building will be repurposed to accommodate a new 1,100-square-foot rehearsal space and a new mechanical plant servicing the Head House. The rehearsal space will be designed to accommodate artists of all genres and will serve to support disciplines that need more traditional rehearsal space proportions to prepare for work in the drill hall, than are available in the historic period rooms.

The basement of the Head House will be renovated to include a handicapped access and stage door directly off 66th Street, a reception area, an orientation room for tours and school children, public restrooms, coat check, catering storage, and back-of-house spaces for the facility crew. The entrance to the women’s shelter, which is currently housed on the third and fifth floors and will be relocated to an upgraded space on the building’s fourth floor, will be via a private elevator and stair core entered at grade off 67th Street.

Exterior Program
The design proposes no major changes to the exterior of the building short of rehabilitation and cleaning. The brickwork will be stabilized, missing bricks replaced, the parapets repaired and all masonry will be cleaned. Former fire escapes and bars from the first floor windows will be removed. The existing, degrading mansard roof will be replaced in copper. The original wrought- and cast-iron fence will be restored and a bed of crushed stones will be installed in the existing garden beds. The fifth-floor brick structure, added in 1929, will be enveloped in vines to highlight the profile of the central tower. The architects have also designed a green roof at this level that will help to achieve the Armory’s sustainability goals and also serve as a patio for the rehearsal space.

Park Avenue Armory | Herzog | De Meuron |  |

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