New face on Park Avenue

06 Oct 2011

Considered restoration planned for cherished New York City armory

Park Avenue Armory has unveiled the designs by Herzog & de Meuron for the renovation, restoration, and transformation of one of the country’s most important landmarks into a new kind of cultural facility and institution. The multi-year project reinvigorates the original design of the historic building, which includes the 55,000 sq ft Wade Thompson Drill Hall and an array of period rooms by some of the most innovative designers of the 19th century, while advancing the Armory’s mission, dedicated to the creation and presentation of visual and performing art that cannot be realised within the limitations of traditional performance halls and white-wall museums.

The Herzog & de Meuron design has been guided by the understanding that the Armory’s rich history and the patina of time are essential to its character and must be respected and built upon. Encompassing the Armory’s entire five-storey building, the project will create new resources and a diversity of spaces for the Armory’s artistic, educational, and public programming, as well as Artist-in-Residence studios and rehearsal rooms, offering unique environments and amenities for artists and audiences alike. The programme includes: the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and the former rifle range below it; eighteen period rooms on the first and second floors in the adjacent Head House; all public circulation spaces, including the grand hallways, staircase, and new elevators; new relocated office space on the third floor; a transformed fifth floor for rehearsal space; and back-of-house facilities on the lower level.

Herzog & de Meuron say of their concept: “When we first visited Park Avenue Armory it was full of the wiring left behind by emergency units set up there after 9/11. The historical rooms were still quite raw, often dusty and gloomy because they had not yet been cleaned up, but instantly we felt the historical weight of the structure and the importance of its social role in New York. Built between 1877 and 1881, the Armory consisted of a 55,000 sq ft drill hall covered by a balloon shed roof and wrought iron arch trusses - still one of the largest column-free interior spaces in New York City - adjoined to a castle-like head house filled with reception rooms and company locker rooms designed by the very finest artisans of the time, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White, Herter Brothers, Pottier & Stymus and other artists of the American Aesthetic Movement.

“But despite its outstanding historical significance, the Armory was suffering from severe physical damage and required intervention to preserve it as a monument for the future while also reinventing it for new contemporary uses. This was when Park Avenue Armory approached us to transform the interiors, originally built and converted over the years for regimental activities, into spaces for cultural activities ranging widely from studios for artists-in-residence to public performances to massive installations. We were immediately fascinated by the unlikely combination of the gilded rooms inside the head house and the adjacent industrial drill hall which we saw as found spaces, comparable to the former oil tanks and turbine hall that we transformed for exhibition purposes at Tate Modern.”

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