Built in 1861, the Park Avenue Armory Park functioned as both a military facility and a social club for the prestigious Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of President Lincoln’s volunteer militia. Now, the 210,000 sqf five story building (which occupies an entire city block) serves as the home for a not-for-profit cultural institution where visual and performing arts can take place within a not so traditional setting. In 2007, the building began a comprehensive revitalization project as it had fallen into a state of disrepair with Herzog & de Meuron as the lead designers (by the way, have you seen their new website?). Herzog & de Meuron have embraced the history, craftsmanship, and the inherent contrast of the Armory’s spaces to restore the interiors to their original elegance. “Park Avenue Armory is a richly layered building of outstanding historical significance that we are treating like a monument, revealing the physical traces produced over time, preserving it for the future and above all reinventing it,” explained Herzog & de Meuron. More about the restoration after the break.
Park Avenue Armory unveiled two restored period rooms, Company Rooms D and E, on the second floor that illustrate Herzog & de Meuron’s approach to the Armory renovation. In addition to restoring elements of the rooms, Herzog and de Meruon have encorporated new lighting elements, furniture, and surface treatments that complement the building’s original detailing and that enable these spaces to support the Armory’s artistic program and mission. By working closely with artisans in woodwork, paint, plaster, and metal-work, Herzog and de Meuron have captured the historic essence of each room while allowing it to fulfill its contemporary needs.
“Consultations with the client, artists, curators, and advisors confirmed that they all loved the spaces just as they were. They liked using the Armory precisely because it had absurd rooms that were not white cubes and not perfect stages. They wanted to work with the historical substance. We set ourselves the challenge to prepare the Armory for new functions with updated infrastructure, while not only preserving its palpable sense of history but enhancing it by revealing the physical traces produced over time,” explained the architects.
At first, we considered revealing all of the changes that had been made in a single room as a kind of palimpsest. However, we soon realized that the rooms of the Armory each have a different identity, which is what makes the building so compelling: it’s like an assemblage of individual characters. Each historic room is very distinct and each has to be treated individually. Every corner raises new questions with many nuances between reconstruction, restoration, renovation, and simulation. Instead of one blanket approach, we enlist a variety of methods and techniques that overlap and that work differently in each of the rooms. What ties it together is the application of a same three-step procedure in each room: first, delayer the original state as much as possible; second, stabilize the room along with the damaged areas, and third, reinforce and refurbish the room so that it best retains its original character. This may mean overprinting a wall with an integrated tracery to unify a damaged surface, developing specific light fixtures or furnishings to bring back the volumetric character of a room, or reconstructing an element that has been lost using the syntax of a different material or technique.”
“As a unifying element, we accentuated the metallic aspect of the Armory. Metallic paints were developed around 1880 and reveals show that they were used extensively throughout the building. Since metal oxidizes with time, the patterns and architectural details have dulled and their effects are no longer visible. We reintroduce these effects and find different ways of implementing them. Copper is used because it can be reflective or matte, has a rich colour 2 range that can be almost black, ages very gracefully, and can be a textile, a coating, or a metal. This diversity means that it can be very inconspicuous,” explained Herzog and de Meuron.
The multi-year project will include new resources and spaces for exhibitions, installations, and performances, as well as Artist-in-Residence studios, rehearsal rooms, and back-of-house amenities— offering dynamic environments for artists and audiences alike. Encompassing the entire building, the program includes: the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and the former rifle range below it; eighteen period rooms on the first and second floors in the adjacent Head House; all public circulation spaces, including the grand hallways, staircase, and new elevators; new relocated office space on the third floor; a transformed fifth floor for rehearsal space; and back-of-house facilities on the lower level.