Perimeter block, infillTower
Greenwich Street
Archi-Tectonics/Winka Dubbeldam | New York, USA | 2004
Image of Greenwich ...
Greenwich facde (west)

ProjectGreenwich Street
ArchitectArchi-Tectonics/Winka Dubbeldam
CityNew York
Address497 Greenwich St.
Building TypePerimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellings23
Date Built2004
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1,2 Br, flats, 2BR duplex
No. Floors11
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Concrete, concrete block, glass curtain wall, aluminum
Construction TypeSteel frame/Conc. slab
Ancillary ServicesArt Gallery, shops, comm. facilities.

Located at the intersection of three of New York's major cultural districts--the West Village to the north, SoHo to the west, and Tribeca to the south--this building is part of the transformation of the western edge of Manhattan that has been under construction over the past few years. Due to the changes in maritime shipping that had occurred over the years this once thriving mercantile district had become a derelict zone of empty lots and underused and abandoned warehouses and factories. By the 1980's, however, driven by progressive zoning laws and the appeal of waterfront sites along the river, these areas were seen as development opportunities for new, and renovated residential and commercial buildings. (See Perry & Charles Street for more history about this area.)

The site along Greenwich St. between Canal and Spring streets was a district of narrow perimeter blocks with many old, 6-story party-wall masonry buildings surviving from late 18th and early 20th centuries when the area was the hub of the printing industry. The site was appealing for development because the city allowed a change to residential use and an 11-story height limit. Two separate buildings occupied the site, a one-story parking garage and an unoccupied 6-story warehouse. The idea was to demolish the garage, renovate the warehouse, and combine it with a new 11-story addition that had a glass facade facing west along the street that wrapped up and over the existing building. The old 6-story 1915 warehouse was gutted and renovated. A new vertical circulation core was positioned at the intersection of the two building elements where it provided critical structural reinforcement to what is now essentially a compact point access tower. Luxury penthouses and terraces occupy the top floors and a narrow recessed porch gives access to public spaces at grade along Greenwich St. The ell-plan forms a narrow courtyard that lights rooms on the interior of the block. As Greenwich Street has continued to develop, the zoning has changed permitting taller buildings. Today, the code permits a height of 13 floors.

While the overall massing strategy was clear enough, conforming to city zoning requirements was difficult. Following NYC zoning traditions, building heights step back to admit more light to the street as building heights increase resulting in the familiar 'ziggurat" form. On Greenwich Street, the code allowed for a straight rise of 85' to maintain the 6-story height of the existing warehouses. Above this the building envelope had to step back another foot for each 2"-8" of additional building height. Further complexities involved how the two buildings connected along the street, the garden facades, and how the roof was to be made. The two obvious strategies of a normal glass curtain wall that was that it either sloped or stepped to fit the code geometry. This was rejected in favor of designing a folded, curving, layered, 3-D, transparent blue green glass membrane that cascades down the entire facade and wraps up and over the edge of the roof forming a glass clerestory for the top duplex. The elaborate glass curtain wall was now tall enough to give incredible views of the city especially of the Hudson panorama to the west and the tip of Manhattan Island to the southwest.

There are 23 dwellings in the building that range and size from modest studio to 3 bedroom types including a very large luxurious duplex penthouse that opens to terraces on the top 3 floors. The program is divided between ground floor public spaces including a gallery a small pool, a screening room and some other spaces for the residents. Condos occupy the floors above this and there are 10 dwellings in the remodeled warehouse and 13 in the new building. The 11' high ceilings in the warehouse are also used in the upper floors of the new dwellings and some have fireplaces and terraces. The elevations on the east side of the block continue the expression of warehouse construction with thick masonry walls and awning windows and terraces that provide some outdoor space overlooking the interior of the block. The Greenwich facade, by contrast is a much more elaborate and transparent surface that is expressed as an undulating glass membrane that is secured to a light steel sub-structure that is hung from the curtain wall assembly.

The difference between west and east facades is also expressed in the plan organization where rooms are defined on the east by a zone of solid walls and small openings as compared to the west facade that is entirely open and transparent. Spectacular views of the city can be seen from the upper floors of the building, further add to the extreme emphasis to the west. 497 Greenwich is in total contrast to the adjacent vernacular buildings but still responds to the subtle nuances and details of the warehouse, especially critical heights, the balconies and cantilevered porch at the sidewalk and the re-entry corner that reveals the brick corner of the brick building with its zone of balconies and recessed windows.

497 Greenwich is an interesting example of how to use small infill buildings as the essential building block for renovating run down urban districts. A difficult condition has been transformed into an ingenious display of space and light and modern loft interiors. But what is really extraordinary about Greenwich is the glass facade itself. Eschewing economic pressure, the lack of clear NYC precedents, and pressure to create a traditional curtain wall, one of stepped or sloped form, the architect went for a more interesting way to enclose the 11-story high Greenwich facade. The result is an undulating blue-green, constructivist, crystalline latticework that wraps, and bends, tucks and folds as it flows in waves down the surface of the west facade. The edges of this reflective membrane are trimmed and folded to create a recessed entrance porch at the street, to reveal the corner of the warehouse where there is a vertical zone of balconies, and to create a crease between old and new that wraps up and over the top edge of the facade creating a clerestory at the top of a 2-story high living area. There are two curving diagonal riffs across the lower 6- story zone, continuous narrow balconies at the 8th and 10th floors, and parts of the upper surfaces are tilted.

The design and construction of this complex structure seems almost beyond the capability of existing technical skill and it took CATIA expertise and the know- how of specialized fabricators on three continents to build it. The glass wall is made of three sub-assemblies. The first layer is a 7' wide latticework of light steel framing that attaches to the edge of the cantilevered floor slabs. Second is a high performance structural glass wall, a membrane made of three layers of insulated, laminated glass panels some of which are bent or have operating windows. The third layer is the system of extruded horizontal aluminum fins that cover the joints between glass panels.

Cricusa of Barcelona, a fabricator specializing in curved glass technology, made 43 bent glass panels that consist of a ¼" thick layer of tempered glass, a ½" air gap and a layer of laminated glass comprised of 2 sheets of ¼" glass bonded together using a layer of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) film for strength and sound control. A low-"E" coating of metallic oxide was applied to the third surface of glass to block radiant heat transfer and ultraviolet radiation. To create the folds in the glass, sheets of glass were bent over molds of varying temperature. High optical quality was extremely difficult to maintain because of the complex bends. PVB film was selected for this task because of the need for high precision and because it delivers better optics and strength than is achieved by merely bending the two pieces of glass. Chemical tempering was used in the third layer of glass because of the unusual folds. The horizontal glass panels are all less than 3' wide and are supported by the steel lattice. A tolerance of only 1/8" was specified for the installation of the glass resulting in an extremely smooth transition between glass panels. The custom-extruded aluminum fins that cover the joints between glass panels and provide thermal breaks between panels were custom- extruded in Hong Kong to match facade angles. Stainless steel rods are used as cross bracing and to reduce the thickness and visual impact of the steel columns. Assembling this complex system was a daunting task requiring skills and precision approaching high quality automotive glazing technology.

The curtain wall manufacturer was the UAD Group and New York-based consultant Israel Berger & Associates who modeled and engineered the complex membrane using CATIA software to determine with precision the geometries of each glass panel and its relationship to the underlying substructure. Three groups of components were used to construct the different areas of the curtain wall: the sloping glass bend lines, three on the 4th, 5th, 6th floors and one on the 9th floor. The inclined horizontal extrusions were applied at four different angles, 8, 14,99, 23, including the typical 90-degree, and the cambered floor edges. The facade was assembled in Brooklyn and installed by suspending the glass panels off the steel substructure on site.

One inch thick laminated structural glazing using frameless spider fittings and tension rods is used in several places where the layered outer wall was not suitable: to make closure at the top of the facade, where a clerestory element extends above the top of the wall framing a 2-story high void the extends down into the space of the living room. Structural glass was also used for terrace balustrades, running the complete width of the façade, and as an entrance canopy at the ground floor. This canopy cantilevers out over a ramp that gives access to the level of the porch that is several feet above the level of the sidewalk. Finished in a special terrazzo, the ramp forms a transitional space between the active streetscape and the building interior reaffirming a reoccurring theme of the design, the mediation between old and new.

Together, these three layers define a "vertical landscape" varying in depth from a few inches to several feet that encloses the building continuously along the west side. The mesh of the wrapped steel latticework resembles a crystalline fractal landform of some kind (see FracHill) transparent, faceted, iridescent, and tilted in a vertical position. It seems formed as if by a geologic event, geometric but chaotic, the result of a parametric process.

The smallish, freestanding steel columns, continuous tilted glass walls, the deep glass railings, and especially the ingenious clerestory lantern that allows the glass to extend several feet forward and above beyond the edge of the roof creates the sensation of continuous open space, vertically and horizontally. In the duplex on the top three floors the vertical space extends through 3 floors so that the terraces are experienced as the extension of the inner voids of the living spaces.

One may wonder why so much technically precocious expertise has been lavished on one small building on a rather ordinary street. But the spectacular spatial luminesce of the interiors of the upper floors takes the idea of the free plan to an entirely new level. The dark interiors of the typical SoHo loft resurrected from the remains of industrial uses has here been transformed into this loft to end all lofts complete with a white epoxy Kryptonite-like floor; an otherworldly, seamless material suitable for a heavenly place at the top of the world.

Architectural Record, Nov. 2004, pp. 198-[203].

Duran, Sergi Costa, High Density Housing Architecture, Loft Publications, Barcelona, 2009, pp. 66-73.

>Architecture + Urbanism, Mar., 2007, pp. 136-39.

Killory, Christine & René Davids, "Greenwich Street Project", Details in Contemporary Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2007, pp. 18-25.

Lillande, Ann,"Bent Glass;Undulating and Insulating", Glass Magazine, May 1, 2005.

Ryan, Raymund, "Winka Dubbeldam in Manhattan", The Plan, 2009.

Schoeneman, Deborah,"Down by the Riverside", New York Mazine, Feb. 9, 2004.

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