Renovation Award of Excellence: Woolworth Building, New York City

Alex Saltzman
Individuals, New York City

Chuck Knapp
Associate Partner
SLCE Architects, New York City

From ‘Cathedral of Commerce’ to ‘Residential Regeneration'

The Woolworth Tower Residences were created to restore the beauty of the famed Neo-Gothic “Cathedral of Commerce” dating to 1913, and to make it an anchor in a newly residential neighborhood. In transforming the tower floors from commercial to residential use, modern engineering parameters were applied to perform major structural and mechanical modifications throughout the building, but most significantly on the 29th floor, and on the 53rd through 58th floors. Open, expansive residential living spaces were created out of formerly dark, small and unoccupiable mechanical and back-of-house spaces. These innovative modifications included installing new (and enlarging existing) windows in landmarked, load-bearing walls, removing structural decks, raising entire roof decks and adding floors above the 29th-floor setbacks, condensing mechanical systems and creatively splitting fire water systems into components that could fit within the pinnacle structure.

The residential tower systems had to be separated from the commercial base, while keeping 800,000 square feet (74,322 square meters) of occupied office space functioning. This included truncating and rebuilding active elevators and decommissioning portions of shared, operational MEP systems. By combining an original boiler flue shaft and a decommissioned elevator bank, an independent shaftway – or “residential umbilical cord” – was created through the lower office floors for MEP services and two 1,000 fpm (5.08 m/s) elevators. This renovation was made up of dozens of smaller decisions, which, through their synergy with this historically significant, iconic building, have proven the economic viability of this type of conversion, and should encourage other owners to upgrade and restore similarly outdated office buildings in dense urban environments.

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