Tishman Construction has completed work on key facilities upgrades for Park Avenue Armory — including overhaul of its electrical systems, upgrade of its structural components, and stabilization of its infrastructure — supporting the non-profit’s transformation into one of New York City’s most dynamic cultural institutions. The Armory, built by the National Guard’s prestigious Seventh Regiment in the 1880s and now a National Historic Landmark, is one of the city’s most exciting buildings due to its rich military, social, arts and architectural lineage.
The Armory is grand in size as well, filling an entire block between Park and Lexington Avenues and 66th and 67th Streets.
Tishman overcame several challenges as it managed installation of modern amenities (air conditioning, theatrical production lighting, motorized “black-box” black-out curtains on windows, additional bathrooms) that extend the Armory’s ability to stage high-end events year-round and at any time of day. The work was undertaken to stabilize the deteriorated building in advance of a major restoration and revitalization project, the details of which the Armory will unveil later this year. The entire project, designed by Herzog & de Meuron with Platt Byard Dovell White as executive architect, is being built to LEED Silver standards.
“We are thrilled to have made so much progress in stabilizing this historic treasure as a non-traditional home for the arts,” said Rebecca Robertson, president and CEO of the Armory. “The Armory is an exceptional building, reflecting the most cutting-edge designers of a previous era, and now providing a home for contemporary, cutting-edge arts productions. The building and its interiors must be treated with the utmost respect for detail and historic preservation. Our colleagues at Tishman have been terrific partners in this project, injecting an intense level of care into the intricate process of stabilizing and upgrading this extraordinary space.”
The Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall is one of New York’s largest unobstructed spaces. Its 55,000 sq. ft. of column-free space was an engineering feat when it was first built. In order to reinforce the truss structure and install performance infrastructure at the top of the drill hall’s ceiling, 85 ft. (26 m) above the floor, Tishman oversaw construction of a custom-built temporary work platform suspended from the ceiling. Within that platform, workers performed truss reinforcement, added sound-deadening glass, installed motorized black-out curtains to permit a “blackbox” theater effect during daytime, and installed theatrical lighting and rigging. Tishman also coordinated the installation of a quiet, hot water radiation system at the perimeter of the drill hall, which will allow for performance presentations in the winter months.
“Before the performance infrastructure was installed, workers had to install and remove theatrical lights and black-out shades for each performance by using a cherry picker,” said Robertson. “The new blackout shades, rigging, power distribution and house lighting systems, permanently installed on the ceiling, provide us with increased flexibility for the range of visual and performing arts programs that we offer.”
Modern Solutions Within an Historic Landmark
Tishman installed new cooling towers within the building’s existing turrets and a new chiller plant in the basement. These will work together to provide air conditioning and permit the Armory to host events in summer, which it could not do previously.
Tishman oversaw the installation of a new steam connection with ConEd and installation of new plumbing for bathrooms in the basement; repointing of the brick on the exterior of the Lexington Avenue façade; and removal, cleaning and reinstallation of the granite trim on the crenellated towers. Tishman managed installation of a 2,000-volt electrical system that will permit the Armory to host topflight theatrical productions, including the Royal Shakespeare Company in summer 2011.
The Tishman team managed several challenges as it assisted the Armory in making its vision for the historic building a reality:
• When installing the cooling towers within the existing turrets, Tishman and the subcontractor worked with 130-year-old masonry, integrating it to new steel frames within the towers to support the new cooling units.
• To make room for the chillers, Con Ed steam service and new bathrooms, workers had to remove load bearing walls. Workers shored the walls up first and jacked up the ceiling to allow the walls to be removed. Tishman utilitzed seismic monitors throughout this process so that Tiffany stained-glass windows and clocks and cut crystal regimental trophies and vases in the Company Rooms were not disturbed. Workers also excavated below the level of the foundation to strengthen the footings to carry the loads for the new bathrooms in the cellar.
• The Armory constantly has big shows moving in, setting up, and moving out of the Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Working around theatrical productions, monumental art installations and antique, book, and art shows has been a constant logistics challenge. Equipment is on wheels so it can be moved out of the Drill Hall whenever necessary.
• Finding brick close in color and size to existing brick on the façade proved to be impossible. Tishman managers searched among brick suppliers and finally found brick the right color to match an especially difficult area of the façade, but the bricks were not the right size. Workers had to cut down thousands of bricks by a fraction of an inch, a laborious process.
“Tishman is intensely proud to be a part of the stabilization and infrastructure upgrade for this incredible landmark, creating a dramatic space for social, art and theatrical events,” said Fred Corrado, executive vice president of Tishman Construction Corporation. “New Yorkers will enjoy the Armory for generations to come, and we’re glad to bring our expertise in historic renovations to enhance this project.”
The massive, bronze front gates and bronze hardware on the front doors were conserved, not restored. To conserve metal is to “capture the flavor of the original intention for the metal,” according to Lina Gottesman, president of Altus Metal, Marble & Wood, which performed the metal conservation. Bronze is made of brass, copper and nickel, and a green patina forms over the years, which protects the metal. At the Armory, due to chemicals in the air and calcium in rainwater, oxidation occurred and a crust, or sediment, formed on the metal. On top of that, the metal gates had been painted many times in the past. Workers had to use different types of paint remover with a soft cotton cloth in order to gingerly remove the paint and expose the original patina. Low-pressure water, instead of chemicals, was used to wash away sediment.
About the Park Avenue Armory
Part palace, part industrial shed, Park Avenue Armory fills a critical void in the cultural ecology of New York by enabling artists to create, and the public to experience, unconventional work that could not otherwise be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums. With its soaring 55,000-sq.-ft. Wade Thompson Drill Hall — reminiscent of 19th-century European train stations — and array of exuberant period rooms, the Armory invites artists to draw upon its grand scale and distinctive character to both inspire and inform their work.
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