100 Barclay: Restoring and reinventing a historic Tribeca landmark


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100 Barclay: Restoring and reinventing a  historic Tribeca landmark

Finished in 1927, 100 Barclay is one of New York City’s most pivotal structures. Designed by one of our country’s most esteemed architects, Ralph Walker, while he was an associate at McKenzie Voorhees & Gmelin, the tower began construction in 1923, during a time marked by a dramatic shift in architecture and the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. Originally known as the Barclay-Vesey Building, the 32-story building ascends to a height of nearly 500 feet, which made it one of the globe’s tallest towers upon completion. The voluminous building was also built as the largest telephone company building in the world, encompassing more than 1.2 million square feet of office and telecommunication space. Its Hugh Ferris-inspired massing, and nature-influenced ornamentation stands as a monument to man’s prowess and the machine age, and is widely recognized by architects and historians to be the first Art Deco skyscraper, a prototypical example of the style in its finest form.

Walker was very influenced by Eero Saarinen‘s designs and he was interested in how he could use the 1916 Zoning Resolution to his advantage. Walker saw the use of setbacks as a way to make buildings appear more dramatic and dynamic, while still taking a prominent position in the New York skyline. As New York Architecture recounts, “This building was widely published and it captured the imagination of New Yorkers. It was also very influential in getting other designers to use these kinds of forms on the city’s architecture. It was so successful that Ralph Walker became a partner in the firm, which became known as Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker.” Walker would go on to design a number of other striking New York City skyscrapers in the same vein, though increasingly ornate.

The importance of this structure cannot be overstated. As such, it was made an official city landmark in 1991. As the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote in their designation “built at a time of great progress and transition in American design, it was a product of the atmosphere of architectural creativity and originality which flourished in New York in the 1920s.” In fact, the same year it opened, it won the Architectural League of New York’s gold medal of honor, the League proclaimed it a “fine expression of the new industrial age.”

The building would serve for decades as the headquarters for the New York Telephone Company, then hosting NYNEX, Bell Atlantic and then Verizon who still occupies the lower floors today. The building’s function also manifests itself in its form. Although built quite solidly from masonry, a number of exterior adornments reveal elements relating to telecommunications, including a bell, which was the New York Telephone Company’s icon. Inside, the ornate lobby with its marble, travertine and inlaid bronze hosts an incredible ceiling mural depicting the evolution of communication from Aztec runners to ships to the telephone.

In 2013, Ben Shaoul’s Magnum Real Estate Group purchased the upper 21 floors of the building with the intent of converting the building, since renamed 100 Barclay, into 158 grand condominiums with a slew of amenities, including an 82-foot-long lap pool. Understanding the importance of the building and the need to preserve its character while giving it a modern update, Magnum tasked Ismael Leyva Architects to design the interior units (they also served as the executive architect) and DXA Studio to serve as the landmarks and exterior design architect. In the interviews ahead, Manish Chadha and Leonard Vidrak of Ismael Leyva Architects, and Greg Bencivengo and Jordan Rogove of DXA Studio give us some insight into the recent work done on the majestic building.