Fashion Center Building
project name : Fashion Center Renovation / Restoration
location : New York City
year of design: 1990
client: Marian & James H. Cohen, Fashion Center
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer
design team: John Butterworth, Ursula Kyle, Giovanni Pagnotta
photographer: Kathryn Bogart
In the early 1990s, two of a small group holding title found themselves the improbable stewards of a benefactor’s vision for the Fashion Center, a 23-storey Romanesque Revival structure in New York’s historic Garment District. Two of the owners, sensing an opportunity, despite the building’s shabby condition, and rent revenue, resisted the inclination of the others to hang up the “For Sale” sign, despite the buildings sluggish appearance and lackluster rent rolls. Instead, the pair, an art critic and an entrepreneur, sought consultation about possible alternative family plans for the building.
A genealogical investigation revealed that a prominent American Architect, Henry Ives Cobb, designed the building in 1924, although subsequent changes had left it beyond recognition. The details follow the storyline of many of New York’s old buildings and neighborhoods during the decades of so-called “urban renewal.” Evidently, the Fashion Center’s terra cotta and cast plaster ornamentation was carried off along with much of the “fabric” of old New York’s garment district. The excavating the fragments of a once splendid lobby, plans commenced to revitalize Fashion Center for a new tenancy.
By restoring the portico, previously sealed-off behind large glass doors, the building regained the distinctive appeal of a refreshing passageway from the public street. In the ‘al fresco’ entrance, a new terrazzo floor and ceiling further enhanced impeccably remade terra cotta and wrought iron elements. In the lobby, modern lighting hidden inside original fixtures illuminated the dramatic beauty of a recreated floral plaster cast ceiling, and sumptuously restored cream and purple marble walls, with delicate gold and black accents. A companionable bronze reception desk positioned alongside restored bronze window frames, heating grills, and elevator doors introduced a striking contemporary element to the old lobby.
On an upper floor, a new design offered modern variation on the geometry of the lobby. Light fixtures set inside recesses in the ceiling illuminated a new terrazzo floor. Milled aluminum brackets offered a modern reference to the contemporary city skyline, while protecting the walls from careening carts of merchandise.
Nearly twenty years ago, the contemporary renovation and historic restoration of Fashion Center preserved the aura of an ethereal past, while assuring a long future for the building. The project introduced the economically and environmentally advantageous architectural solution of bringing along the older building into the present.