Up until the 1960s, architects were more intent on replacing old buildings than saving them, but by 1963, a P/A Awards jury was ready to honor adaptive reuse. Lee Harris Pomeroy’s Henry Street Studios proposal for artists’ housing in a former Brooklyn, N.Y., candy factory was “unanimously applauded” by a group that included some of the century’s most prominent names, all of whom agreed that this conversion was “done ingeniously and sensibly, and with respect for the existing architecture.”
According to that awards issue, the jurors were disappointed with most housing entries, feeling that too often “no real architectural challenge had been posed.” That observation appears related to their decision to honor this project, which represented a type of challenge just then emerging.
Completion of the project was delayed until 1975, in part because building codes initially prohibited certain design elements, such as exposed timber framing in multistory housing and loft-style apartments. The location in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District—New York’s first such area—entailed approval for one nonhistorical exterior elevation to replace a blank party wall.
As gentrification of the neighborhood proceeded, the building was converted from subsidized to market-rate housing. Now PKSB Architects is thoroughly renovating the structure for condominiums and adding a four-story annex. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved the massing of the new construction and redesigned windows for the original building’s arched openings.
The new exterior features of the resulting complex take design cues from the one major element created earlier by Pomeroy: that modern fourth wall.
1963 P/A Awards Jury
Robert Geddes, FAIA
Aline B. Saarinen
John Skilling, Hon. AIA