Archtober Building of the Day: The Woolworth Tower Residences

BOD #1

Archtober Building of the Day: The Woolworth Tower Residences

Archtober Building of the Day: The Woolworth Tower Residences. Thierry Despont, with SLCE Architects as the architect-of-record, is converting the Cass Gilbert building's top 30 floors to residences. (Ralph D'Angelo/CIG Digital/Image via Archtober)

This is the first in a monthlong series of guests posts by AIA New York that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours. See the full 2017 schedule here.

Archtober kicked off Sunday with an intimate tour of The Woolworth Tower Residences led by Joanna Stephens, Project Manager for CNY Group, and CNY Group President Kenneth Colao. Stephens and Colao described how the project, which converts the top 30 floors of Cass Gilbert’s historic Woolworth Building into luxury condominiums, has involved not only gut renovation of the relevant floors but also extensive structural reinforcement and MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) replacement. The Office of Thierry W. Despont is doing the interior design for the project, while SLCE Architects serves as architect of record. The owner-developer is Alchemy Properties.

The tour started on the ground floor, where the residences will receive a separate lobby from the commercial space that occupies the first 28 floors. Stephens and Colao outlined the Woolworth Building’s history, beginning with five-and-dime store magnate Frank Woolworth’s desire to build the world’s tallest building. Construction took only two years, from 1910 to 1912, and the building opened in 1913. It remained the tallest building in the world until 1930. The current renovation completes the work begun years ago on the building’s top floors, and creates some of Manhattan’s most desirable residences.

After our introduction, Stephens and Colao took us downstairs to the basement. The mechanical heart of the building, the basement, will now house a gym and wine cellar for residents. A feature of this gym is the original pool, soon to be restored to its former glory. Frank Woolworth put the pool in for the use of his executives. It was later bought by a private health club, but the NYC Department of Health closed it many years ago. The pool was also used as a mechanical area for wiring; whenever a new mechanical element was introduced, the old one was simply left in place next to it, so the pool eventually housed dozens of cubic feet of pipes and wires, some live, some not. One of the challenges of the renovation was to figure out which ones were redundant without turning off the light or water in the commercial floors, which remained occupied during construction.

Stephens and Colao also discussed other challenges of gut renovating a landmarked building without disrupting the remaining tenants. One problem was the impossibility of putting up an exterior hoist. Instead, CNY temporarily requisitioned two elevators to function as tiny hoists, but the difficulty in bringing materials up such a small space slowed the construction schedule. Additionally, due to other regulations, no crane could be set up on the roof, so builders had to take apart some elements upon delivery, such as a generator, and reassemble them once they reached the correct floor.

Once a freight elevator had carried our tour group to the residential levels, the true scale of the renovation became clear. We saw numerous residential floors at various levels of completion. Each floor is slightly different, based on the diminishing floorplates of the tapering tower and on individual buyers’ wishes. The two apartments on the 30th floor will be the second-most expensive after the penthouse, due to their extensive terraces. Most other floors will house two units, but some buyers have bought both apartments to create full-floor residences. We got to explore the model unit on the 38th floor, which displays the extent of Thierry Despont’s vision for the tower’s residents, complete with all modern conveniences in a sleek ensemble. Finally, the penthouse, advertised as a “townhome in the sky,” will span the top five stories, connected both by a spiral staircase and by a private elevator. This opulent residence, still under heavy construction, will hit the market at $110 million. While much of this apartment is still scaffolded, the notion of living at the top of the Woolworth Building, looking out at the city over Cass Gilbert’s gargoyles, is extraordinary.

Tomorrow, join Archtober for another extraordinary view of the skyline when we tour the rooftop Brooklyn Grange Farm!