Mix It Up: Preservation

Because 200 Fifth Avenue is a historic building, the plans to renovate it had to run an all-too-familiar gauntlet: New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), long seen as an enemy of modern additions. But in this case, most of the updates involved the interior, with two crucial exceptions: the entrance on Fifth Avenue and a 15-story curtain wall, to be inserted in an open courtyard that had long since been sealed over. “The main thing the LPC was concerned with were the vertical walls,” says David Burns, a principal at Studios. “In the courtyard they were less concerned, because it was not as visible.”

The LPC wasn’t as flexible with the Fifth Avenue entrance. “The commissioners made us jump through hurdles,” Burns says. Several options were presented without success, so the design-and-development team decided to move forward with the rest of the project, tabling a final decision on the entry until later in the process. “The LPC was hoping to open up the vestibule and make it exterior, referencing the original design,” Burns says. “This didn’t function for the building, so the compromise is a supertransparent, minimal glass entry that essentially disappears.”

Ironically, the building’s 1909 design helped sell the courtyard curtain wall. “It got back to the ideas of the original documents for the building,” Burns says. The courtyard’s modern landscape seamlessly connects to Madison Square Park, across Fifth Avenue. Commissioned and paid for by the landlord, L&L Holding Company, it is not only a solid urban gesture but a shrewd real estate move that, atypically for New York, creates tenant value at the bottom of the building.

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