250 Bowery is a recently completed 40,000 sq ft new condominium building designed in a strategic partnership by Aldo Andreoli of AA STUDIO and Morris Adjmi of MA Architects
The building is located on the east side of the Bowery, between Houston and Prince Street in New York. The Bowery is the street that separates NoLiTa (North of Little Italy) from the Lower East Side. From the Civil War time until a few years ago, The Bowery was still considered the street of the homeless, the prostitutes and the drug addicts and was known for its flophouses.
In the spirit of social reform, the first YMCA opened on the Bowery in 1873. Due in part to the presence of the music club CBGB, the Bowery also became known as one of the centres of Punk culture in the 1970s and 1980s. The CBGB was the club that saw the first performances, among other less famous bands, of the "Talking Heads", The "Ramones" and Patty Smith.
But the vagrant population of the Bowery declined after the 1970s, in part because of the city's effort to disperse it. Since the 1990s the entire Lower East Side has been seeing a revival. The construction of 40 Bond designed by Herzog and De Meuron and developed by Ian Schrager was the beginning of the gentrification of this area into a hip downtown condo location. Bond Street is now considered one of the most prestigious addresses in town, with the construction of 25 Bond designed by BKSK and 31 Bond by DDG.
As of July 2005, gentrification has been contributing to ongoing change along the Bowery. In particular, the number of high-rise condominiums is growing. In 2006, Avalon Bay Communities opened its first luxury apartment complex on the Bowery.
That same year, the SANAA-designed facility for the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened between Stanton and Prince Street. A few years after SANAA's project the Bowery witnessed the construction of the new gallery Sperone-Westwater, designed by Sir Norman Foster and located just one block north of the New Museum.
Cooper Square, located just three blocks north on the same street, have seen in the last few years, the construction of the new Cooper Union classroom and laboratory building, designed by Tom Mayne of MorphSis.
Three Pritzker Prize winners have designed buildings just a few blocks away from the Bowery in the last four years, which sent a powerful message for the architectural potential of this area of downtown.
250 Bowery is located on the western side of the street, between Houston and Prince Streets. A well-known downtown developer purchased this site in 2004. He wanted to build a Condo-Hotel, a formula that was very fashionable before the recession. Problems in the excavation of the foundations delayed the construction, and when the sub-prime mortgages crisis hit the market the building went into default.
The site was purchased in 2010 by two young developers (VE Equities), who decided to build a boutique condominium on the distressed site. The selected architects were Aldo Andreoli of AA STUDIO and Morris Adjmi of MA Architects, who had just formed a new partnership.
250 Bowery as a condominium project was conceived during the recession, and this is the reason why the developers requested the design of smaller units, which are easier to sell in a difficult market. The previous design for a condo-hotel included a facade in Corten steel with slanted windows, a very costly design for a new building to be constructed immediately after one of the worst real estate recessions in the history of the US.
The close presence of two landmarks such as the New Museum and the Sperone-Westwater gallery, two buildings designed more for being seen then for efficiency, was another important consideration during the conceptual phase of the design.
The programme was also calling for the design of four duplex penthouses to be built on the top two floors of the new building. This idea (together with the creation of private terraces on the roof of the building) maximised the return for the sale of these units, allowing the developer to charge a premium not only for the top floor, but also for the one below.
As an additional financial consideration, the architects were asked to locate the scissors staircases and the elevator core in the southern portion of the building, in order to keep the commercial space on the ground floor open and column-free, thereby adding to its commercial value.
Usually in New York developers don't want to spend additional money on the facades facing the lot lines (as they will be hidden by the construction of neighbouring buildings) or the ones in the back of the building (since they are not visible from the street).
A square facade
Another important aspect was that the size of the building frontage and the allowed maximum height almost corresponded, therefore forcing the geometry of the facade to be squared (85' x 85').
In order to face these challenges the architects decided to choose a facade design incorporating a rigorous grid of squares within squares. The tradition of the Bowery as a commercial street, and its proximity to the iconic cast-iron district of Soho were the deciding factors behind shaping the building to look like a contemporary warehouse.
But cast-iron is too expensive a material to use in a new condominium development in 2013 in New York, so in order to achieve the same look, the architects selected Alucobond for the construction of the facade, a versatile composite aluminium panelling system that is available in many custom colours which can be forged in different shapes. The result is a slightly reflective metal appearance very similar to steel.
The warehouse look is also emphasised by the design of the windows, divided into nine panes and operable with a tilt. The architects convinced the developers to construct a similar facade on the back of the building, where the views of downtown are memorable and the apartments are quieter than on the Bowery itself.
The two architects also have further collaboration projects in the pipeline, such as a 24-storey office building in Verona, Italy and the conversion of a 230,000 sq ft warehouse building in Brooklyn. Both designers enjoy reinterpreting historic forms as a basis to create something modern, while at the same time respecting the relationship to the city and its past.