The Soho Cast Iron Historic District is about to get a little bit trendier. Last night the Landmark Preservation Commission held a hearing on COOKFOX Architect’s design of a new retail and office development that will transform the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets. The verdict: unanimous approval by the commissioners. “It was amazing and so encouraging to hear the commissioners comments,” said architect Rick Cook.
The architects were drawn specifically to this intersection because, explained Cook, “We love to look at these empty landmark districts, the missing teeth, missing corners of Manhattan.” Since the 1930s, the site has remained home to giant billboards and a gas station. The sidewalk surrounding the lot also houses two of Manhattan’s busiest subway stations—Bleecker Street and Broadway-Lafayette—making it one of the most frequented spots in the city. When designing the building, the architects made sure to consider the historic character of the neighborhood as well as the bustling nature of the intersection.
In creating the design for 300 Lafayette, the architects were primarily focused on connecting the building’s users with nature. “The practice is called biophilic design,” said Cook, “people feel good when they feel connected to nature.” The firm worked with landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson to develop a list of plants and trees indigenous to Manhattan. “What it feels like to watch the seasons change, watch the birds come, it’s beyond description,” commented Cook. The architects included 11,000 square feet of natural indigenous green space into the building design, mostly in the form of balconies and window box planters.
In addition to nature, the design responds to two prominent 19th century buildings located nearby: The Little Singer Building (1902) by Ernest Flagg, whose large windows and balconies are delicately laced with wrought-iron railings, and the Bayard-Condict Building (1897) by Louis Sullivan, whose ornamental terracotta facade was radical in its day.
Ernest Flagg’s use of large windows is echoed in the new building by deep-set glass walls that give the illusion that one floor floats above the next. The floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass allow ample natural light to flood the interior while providing clear views of the Puck Building across the street (the two-story high retail base was specifically designed to line up with the Puck Building’s massing). The facade recalls Louis Sullivan’s design by featuring a limestone base that transitions into a cream-colored terracotta cladding system.
As is typical of COOKFOX Architect’s designs, 300 Lafayette will be built using sustainable technology, most notably a post-tensioned, voided-slab, flat-plate concrete construction technique. The process leaves spherical voids in the slabs that not only reduce the weight of the floors but also reduce the amount of concrete, steel, and carbon in the structure.
The project is awaiting approval from The New York Department of City Planning before construction can begin.