World Architecture NewsNovember 13, 2012Ralph Thomas Walker - the “architect of the century,” designed Walker Tower in NY.
This conversion of a 1920’s Bell Telephone switching building into the Walker Tower residences offered an opportunity to reimagine the architecture of the building, while respecting the original structure. The result is a 286,000 SF, new, lighter Art Deco architecture expressive of both interior organization and structure that is more reminiscent of cast iron or Gothic in its significantly higher ratio of openings to solid surfaces.
While the solid mass of the original building remains at the base and continues to be occupied by the telephone company from floors one through seven, window openings were enlarged starting at the first residential level. Within the existing bulk of the building, sills were lowered at individual sidewall windows while non-structural masonry piers were removed to insert multi-story tripartite window bays with floor to ceiling glass at streetwalls. Newly added volumes rise along the tower where neutral brick solids are replaced by a vibrant metal rainscreen that consists of profiled vertical metal pilasters and mullions and three dimensionally formed metal spandrels, Sympathetic to the original building’s use of ornamental statuary bronze and nickel silver, the rainscreen is rendered in a bronze colored stainless steel and metallically-painted formed aluminum plate. The micro-linen texture of the bronze stainless steel and the metallic flake in the aluminum surface creates the appearance of two metals that change according to sunlight and sky patterns. Taking a cue from early renderings showing an unbuilt crown atop the original building, four tapering metal spires were added to extend the tower skyward.
Converting this through-block commercial building to residential use required a unique planning strategy to ensure ample light and air for habitable rooms. Organizing kitchen, bathroom, closet and utility spaces adjacent to building corridors in an interior zone pushes the habitable rooms toward the building exterior. This establishes a sensible circulation network within the residences.
Consonance in apartment interiors is achieved through the use of materials, fixtures and detailing that – while not directly derivative of – is appropriate to the Art Deco pedigree of the building. The interior environment is balanced by a resident programmable home automation system that controls the humidified ducted air conditioning, radiant floor heating, supplemental mechanical ventilation and exhaust system.
The adaptive re-use of Walker Tower combines a true understanding of the original structure with intelligent space planning, sensitivity to materials and state-of-the-art technology to reinterpret a rich architectural past in a way that can be valued in the present.