One Kenmare Street
urban office & housing building
New York [satellite]
brick-masonry, glass-facade
Profile USA 04/2008
66 - 73

One Kenmare Square, New York/USA

Rippling eye-catcher

A quick glance at a map of Manhattan shows that there are very few sites in the city that occupy such a prominent position. To what extent did the site influence your design?
New York’s higly regimented street grid doesn’t feature many prominent mid-block building-sites. The lot at the intersection of Lafayette and Kenmare is an exception as the main traffic artery into the city from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side terminates as Kenmare Street reaches Lafayette Street. In fact, you can make out the silhouette of our ten-story building from the span of the Williamsburg Bridge, almost two miles away. It’s the building’s subtle façade that first notice the continous bands of windows and masonry, which are animated by the play of light and shadow. As you approach and come within several hundred feet of the building, you appreciate the sinusoidal rippling of the façade. But the alternating convex and concave arches don’t run vertically. Instead, they gradually set back and move upwards from right to left, with the sine curve moving laterally by two lines of windows per floor.

What was the inspiration for this design?
The Lafayette Street façade is in the tradition of the brick-built industrial buildings that dominated the city in the early 20th century. The building is contextual to the surrounding built environment, and its design is largely informed by zoning requirements with regard to materials palette, height and setback restrictions, and also an intention to respect the scale and style of neighboring buildings. We wanted to simultaneously address these requirements while creating a single, continuous visual effect.

How did you achieve this rippling façade in technical terms?
Wi did it by stacking the floors on top of each other with a progressive set back over the vertical ascent of the façade, and by segmenting the horizontal curve such that the same pour stops used to form the concrete slab edge on one floor could be employed on every floor. Even though each floor is distinct, each row of windows and the balustrade on the floor above complete an identical curving movement. This was a major aid in construction, as forms could be re-used on each successive floor and as a means of orientation when constructing the balustrade. To produce the sophisticated oscillations of the double-layer masonry, all the bricklayers had to do was orient themselves to the front edge of the floor platform. The core of the balustrade consists of 8”-thick hollow insulating blocks, sheathed with 3-5/8”-thick facing tiles. These rest on an angle section, and are separated from the core by two inches of air. Because of the regular recesses in the building’s façade, the apex of balustrade is designed like a parapet at windowsill level.

But don’t these oscillations make the interior space of the building seem unsettled?
No. You can’t detect the various oscillating movements between the balustrade and the line of windows from the inside. They’re concealed by interior plastering, which is applied to a steel suppport structure under the windows. So, instead of a complex cennection to the meandering masonry of the balustrade, we adopted a pragmatic approach in which the window profiles run all the way up to the ceiling of each floor, letting the balustrade stand freely in front.

Where you able to use a conventional profile system to construct the façade?
Yes, we created the continous ranks of windows in a classic post-and-lintel design. They’re arrayed in a polygonal sequence, and the even panes of light grey-toned glass provide UV protection. We were able to achieve the façade’s relatively large radius of curvature with standard post profiles; the windows seals compemsate for the low difference of angle compared to the ideal line. Even so, the horizontal lintels had to be slightly adjusted to the height of the posts.

The incline of the forward-most row of columns makes the recesses in the façade visible. Considering this is just a formal element, it must have required immense extra effort and expense.
Actually, the angle of incline of the individual columns varies depending on the position of the corresponding forward edge of the floor ceiling in relation to the one below. Even though we had to plan each column individually, this has architectonic advantages since the corresponding vertical thrust is transmitted directly to the columns in the floor below without displacement in the ceiling level. The respective orientation of the inclined columns result by itself; it’s just that the capitals and the bases of the columns have to have the same distance to the forward edge of the adjoining floor ceiling.

What about the edge of the ceilings? The ripple effect must have been very difficult to achieve.
I realize the design sounds complex, but it proved surprisingly simple to implement. We chose a uniform grid for the ceiling formwork, which we connected to the sinusoidal forward edge. The identical form of the movement meant that we could withdraw one grid unit from the curve on the right-hand side of the building as worked our way up from floor to floor, and then add it to the left-hand side of the building. We shortened the floors by cutting off an equal section of an orthogonal formwork element in the connecting row of panels.

Is the back of the building as dynamic as the front?
No, the rear side is a more conventional design. To keep the scale of the building consistent with that of the older warehouse buildings in the area, we divided the project into two slender halves, instead of one large mass. The rear façade of the Lafayette Street building takes advantage of the resulting light-filled open space between the two structures, and is punctuated by large covered balcony spaces at the south and north ends of the upper floors.

What about internal organization of space?
Vertical circulation between the floors of the main ten-story building on Lafayette Street runs through a central service core. Because of its perpendicular course, the surface area of the apartments on the street side becomes progressively smaller, which is why reduced the number of apartments from one floor to the next. Thus, lower floors might have room for four or five spacious apartments, while the top floor has been configured as one – albeit very large – penthouse. The Lafayette Street building is accessed by an entrance lobby with doorman, mailboxes, and related amenities, while the six-story Crosby Street building has its own discrete entrance to serve the residents. There is additionally a large retail space at the ground and lower floor of the Lafayette Street building, which now houses the flagship store of an Americanfurniture designer.

Architect Richard Gluckman talked with Robert Mehl, Aachen