Hell's Kitchen, stretching from 34th Street to 59th Street on Manhattan's West Side, has enough grit (industrial and otherwise) to live up to its historically noir moniker. But the neighborhood is slowly transforming, beginning with a bit of rebranding. A small swatch of this urban fabric, now dubbed Hudson Yards for its proximity to the submerged rail lines, is undergoing commercial, residential, and cultural redevelopment. Quintessential Hell's Kitchen soup, the context is perfect inspiration for Affirmation Arts, a nonprofit that supports professional artists and provides community arts outreach.
Architect Peter Matthews began a gut renovation of a 1900 brick warehouse and stable in 2005. Demolishing the original wooden roof and floors and adding 3,000 square feet, he brought the total space to 15,000 square feet. Galleries, offices, studios, and an artist-in-residence apartment stratify the five-story structure.
Clad in zinc panels, but also covered in vines, the project is a stylized and functional nod to industrial ruins - a sly, conceptual hint that the ivy might someday engulf the studios. "It's a factory of a building; it responds to the energy of the site," says Matthews. "Yet, in a city that is mean and hard, nature has the ability to moderate and give back to the neighborhood."
A 60-foot-long, dark anthrax-zinc wall (top left) leads visitors from the street to a double-height gallery (above keft) at the rear of the building. The 19-foot-high gallery is illumined by north light, diffused by translucent Solera glazing panels. In the space, Affirmation Arts shows works by professional artists and hosts exhibitions and events for the surrounding community. To support these happenings, the architect installed a fully equipped art preparation area and catering kitchen behind the zinc wall.
A meticulously detailed glass stair (above right) connects the gallery to second-floor offices. The curved, glass-bottomed landing overlooks the Hudson Yards train gully, creating a rough-versus-refined study in contrasts. Glass fabricators Mon-X, from Montreal, built the stair from Canadian low-iron glass, and the curved panels are from Cricursa in Barcelona, Spain.
Affirmation Arts mission is to support artists, treating creativity as a professional enterprise, and the new building falls in line with this endeavor. Comfortable artist-in-residence quarters (above) connect to four upper-level private studios. The luxuriously sized main studio, measuring 40 feet by 32 feet, gives the resident artist ample room for making art. Three auxiliary spaces augment the larger space. The mezzanine-level graphic arts studio overlooks Hudson Yards. This daylit space floats over the glassworks studio, connected by a two-story slot. The craft studio (top) on the third level accommodates a variety of media.
Matthews' design mixes what he calls a "blastfurnace aesthetic" with greenery and outdoor terraces. Bringing nature to the neighborhood, on the south and west facades, a trellis is bracketed of the building face on a galvanized steel frame (top). Hearty English ivy grows on the armature, which is composed of steel tubes and stainless steel cables by Swiss manufacturer Jakob. Plants grow both up and down from planters positioned on a third-floor terrace. The south-facing green screen cuts sun exposure to the terrace, located outside the main studio. The outdoor space (above), with a full view of the Javits Center and the Hudson River beyond, is large enough to host Affirmation Arts events.