The South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan has a long history that has left a great impression on the economic development of New York City. Once a hub for the thriving shipping, dry goods and grocery industry, it has since turned into a space for public gathering with entertainment, retail, restaurants, water taxi stands and a venue for summer concerts. In between the demise of the exporting industry for the port and its reemergence as a cultural landmark, the historic brick warehouse buildings of the area were suffering from decades of decay and neglect. Cook + Fox Architects were among the firms that contributed to the massive effort required to revive the neighborhood. Eleven historic buildings along Front Street were transformed as part of this effort in 2006.
Front Street, though full of historic buildings, also had a few voids to fill along the block. Three modern structures were built on these lots, respecting the neighborhood’s scale and fitting into the historic context. The language of the architecture is clearly modern, but authentic with the nautical history of the site. The buildings also demonstrate a commitment to environmentally conscious design. Ten geothermal walls provide cooling for the entire project and eliminates the need for rooftop cooling towers that could endanger the historic buildings.
As for the existing structures, Cook + Fox did precise, minimally invasive restoration work to protect the character of the buildings and their history. In order to bring the buildings up to a contemporary standard of living, careful incisions were performed to bring light and air, as well as views, to the new residents of the restored buildings. Residents cross two garden courtyards that open up the block, and preserve, in spatial layout, the commercial character of the street wall. The buildings are now integrated into a mixed-use neighborhood that include 95 rental apartments and small-scale independent retailers.