Tear Down-Rebuild or Adaptive Re-use

The New York City building stock is a rich mix of modern and historic buildings that serve a variety of purposes.  Over time, many of those uses have become obsolete, best exemplified by the surfeit of industrial warehousing in Queens and Brooklyn.  It begs the question; do we tear down and re-build or renovate for a new use? The decision makers evaluating the future of these structures come from diverse perspectives. Banks focus on revenues, conservationists lobby for preservation, regulatory authorities call for code compliance and environmentalists demand increased energy conservation. How does a building owner and the design team determine the best solution? Which parameters float to the top as priorities? Is it revenues, construction cost, longevity, carbon footprint, operational cost or other unknown criteria that determines the outcome?

At the project pictured above, located on E. 53rd St., the design team navigated the building program one step at a time. Lynn Fritzlen AIA, project architect, worked closely with the Owner’s Rep and the General Contractor to develop solutions. The building was transformed from a sleepy warehouse to a corporate headquarters for a global PR firm. To preserve the character, the 100-year old exposed structure was restored and fire-proofed. The construction budget was dominated by the new energy efficient ventilation/AC and fire suppression systems. To improve lighting levels LED pendants with sensors were installed throughout. The staff embraced the open space plan and the new environs.

There are many who argue the embodied energy in any existing building far exceeds the loss of resources to tear down and rebuild it. Alternately there are those who argue that operational energy usage of outdated buildings ultimately outweighs the cost of new construction. The reality is that the metrics take time to assemble. Most owners and design teams use a mix of commissioning, assessment, technical expertise and intuitive design sense to make the call.

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