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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.88 Santiago dic. 2014

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-69962014000300004 

READINGS

Park Avenue Armory by Herzog & de Meuron

  

Olimpia Lira*(1)

* Architect, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


Resumen

The recovery of a militar y facility in New York serves as an exemplary case as to expand the catalog of design strategies and operations for the preservation of architectural heritage. Here, different historical layers and eras coexist.

Palabras clave: Architecture – U.S.A., rehabilitation, architectural restoration, recycling, heritage.


 

Historical theory suggestions behind the project 

There is a special atmosphere inside the Park Avenue Armory. It seems as if you enter a hermetical box that protects something valuable from the outside sun and rain. An extremely dim light illuminates the interiors covered with wood paneling, decorative and elaborate ceilings, and portraits of gentlemen dressed in military uniforms. But it’s far from perfect. The lack of maintenance, neglect of care and layering of interventions has left the traces of time evident to the visitor. Then you enter the restored rooms of Company D and Company E (fig. 1 & 2) and one is surrounded by a clean and crisp surface that contrast with the other rooms that haven’t been restored. But that doesn’t mean that they are perfect either. Looking closely, the paint is chipped, the lamp is modern, and there are patches that interrupt the ceiling pattern. On one hand there is a sense of entering a high end meeting room, and on the other, the sense of entering a ruin.

Fig. 1. Restored room, Company D.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Fig. 2. Restored room, Company E.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Herzog and de Meuron are responsible for the restoration of these rooms and the rehabilitation of this building so it can function as a cultural venue, and as in every restoration project they have had to make difficult decisions on what to maintain of the existing, and how to remove the dispensable. In this editing process it’s possible to recognize varied and sometimes contradictory ideas proposed by 19th century architects and theorists, such as Emmanuelle Viollet-le-Duc who proposed to leave no marks of intervention in restoration works, or Camilo Boito that proposed the complete opposite. It’s even possible to identify John Ruskin’s’ advocacy for non-intervention at all. What is clear is that there are ideas and arguments behind each decision and architectural gesture. So, which were the ideas behind the Herzog & de Meuron project? Is there a strict theory mandating their decisions?

 

History of the Seventh Regiment Armory

Between 1877 and 1881 the Seventh Regiment Armory was built on Park Avenue between 66th and 67th street in Manhattan New York. It was home for the Seventh Regiment of the New York Militia, a volunteer part time military unit of citizen soldiers. It was an extremely prestigious unit of the National Guard, since the soldiers were men of the highest and most elite social class. The Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Schermerhorn among many other powerful and wealthy families of the gilded age, had men in this Regiment. They weren’t soldiers that went to battlefield; instead they represented discipline, law and order in New York City’s cohabitation earning a reputation for quelling riots and calming insurrections.

Originally the Armory was on Tomkins Market (7th Street & 3rd Avenue), but it changed its location to Park Avenue because many of the Soldiers lived in that area. Because of their popularity and education they were able to raise the necessary funds for the construction of the new Armory designed by Charles William Clinton (Finley, 2011). The new Armory was going to be the place for keeping their weapons and their military practice, but it was also was going to be their social club.

The building has two important parts: the Head House and the Drill Hall. The Head house had a reception area, the library, offices, the Veterans room and 10 Company rooms, which were used by each Company for meeting and keeping their uniforms and weapons. Since the soldiers were part of an educated class, they were refined in taste, and commissioned each of these rooms to the most prominent architects and designers such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Associated Artists, (Candance Wheeler, Samuel Colman and Lockwood de Forest), Stanford White, the Herter Brothers, Pottier & Stymus, George C. Flint and Albert Wagner. While the building itself was designated as an individual landmark in 1967, the Landmark Preservation Commission of the City of New York designated the interiors of the reception and company rooms, in 1994. "As an ensemble, the regimental and company rooms of the Seventh Regiment Armory are a nationally important collection of high-style interiors, designed to reflect the late Victorian taste of the late 1870s and early 1880s, with decorative sensibilities of the Aesthetics Movement, and woodwork mostly in the Renaissance Revival style" (Landmark Preservation Commission, 1994, p. 12). Moreover, it was included in the Upper East Side Historic District in 1981 and listed in a National Register of Historic Places in 1986.(1)

The original interiors of the building were intact for less than 20 years. In 1896 the Armory updated its gas lighting to an electrical system, so they had to completely rewire and change all its fixtures. In 1901, they changed the steam pipe heating systems buried in walls to exposed pipes and radiators, and between 1909 and 1911 there were major alterations and expansions. During this period of alterations, the interiors also changed. "Changes in taste account for some of the changes, but undoubtedly others were the result of the physical disruptions of the original décor and the need for repair." (Landmark Preservation Commission, 1994, p. 12). Some of them updated in style, but others maintained a strong tradition and didn’t alter the rooms significantly.

The use and more importantly the users of the building have also changed throughout the 132 years of the Armory. From the beginning it was used at the same time for military exercise and as a social center. It was home for the Seventh Regiment Tennis Club and hosted many music festivals, concerts and unusual thematic balls. Over the decades the Seventh Regiment started loosing its importance and wealth until it was successively downsized evolving into units, including the 53rd Army Liaison Team, which still has its offices in the building. Since 1954 the Drill Hall is rented for the well-known commercial art and antique fairs called "Armory Shows", and in 1983, a homeless shelter was already functioning inside the Armory. These new uses were reflected in the building itself, which fell into a sad state of decay. In 1990 Wade Thompson and Elihu Rose founded the non-for-profit organization Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy, as an initiative to save the building. After 16 years of hard work, confrontations with New York State and despite the opposition of a group of neighbors, in 2006 the Conservancy, now named Park Avenue Armory, signed a 99-year lease agreement and took over the management of the building.

The initial idea for saving the Landmark was to transform it into a Military Museum; but soon in the process the former group decided that they wanted to continue with the active social role of the building in the city and not just be a place to remember, but a place to continue generating future memories. A museum seemed to freeze the building in one period, so they decided to give New York City a cultural space for unconventional works. The 55,000 square-foot Drill Hall was important in taking this decision since it allowed total freedom for artists to show grand scale works in the heart of New York City. It was then necessary to plan an adaptation, which urged for a major architectural strategy that embraced and extoled the history and aesthetics of the building, and at the same time updated and transformed it for a new use.


Restoration and rehabilitation project

Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron was commissioned to lead the restoration and rehabilitation for the Armory in 2006. Their inspiring and subtle use of materials in the Signal Box in Basel and the Dominus Winery in California, and their broad experience with cultural venues, such as the Goetz Gallery in Munich and the Caixa Forum in Madrid were some of the reasons to choose them, according to Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of Park Avenue Armory. But especially the Tate Modern in London offered an obvious parallel as a successful experience of adaptive reuse of a historical building into a cultural space (Mack, 2011, p. 130). At first they presented a project that suggested radical contemporary gestures, but they realized that the building deserved a more subtle intervention. So they went back to the Conservancy with a new proposal, "They came to us and said: we are going to make a project were you won’t even notice that we ever were here" (Rose, 2013). The main idea was to adapt the building to its new use, but maintaining its historical importance. The challenge was "… to capture the intangibles and to acknowledge the Armory 19th century design genius while catapulting it into the future" (Mack, 2011, p. 310).

Company d and Company e rooms have been called the Pilot Rooms, since they were a real laboratory for the determination of methodology, aesthetical vision and theory behind the project. Both rooms were designed originally by Pottier & Stymus in the Renaissance revival style in 1880 and had suffered many alterations during the years because of the reasons mentioned earlier. The finish of the mahogany lockers and carvings had been darkened, the polychrome floral patterns stenciled on the walls, ceilings and coves had been superimposed with a monochrome green plaster scrollwork in Company D and superimposed with a Tudor revival plaster strapwork ceiling and wall paper in Company E (fig. 3). In addition to this, both rooms had lost their original lamps and had had alterations in fireplaces, flooring and furniture, which gave the rooms a certain incongruence of styles. In order to understand all the details and discover the hidden layers, there was a careful process of sampling and delayering previous to the design.

Fig. 3. Previous situation of a Company D room. A layer of colored stucco covers decorative paintings on walls and ceilings.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armoryy.


At first the architects considered showing some of the later changes in order to express its historical evolution, but the clients strongly insisted in recovering the historically significant 1880 layer, which was supported by the conservators at Building Conservation Associates as they revealed the high quality of the original stencil work(2). They then decided to do a complete reveal of the original (fig.4).

Fig. 4. Original layer of painting revealed under stucco, Company E.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory. 

The removal of the plaster and strapwork exposed the rich original décor, but at the same time showed the missing and damaged parts. Ascan Mergenthaler, associated architect of Herzog & de Meuron explains: "We worked out a three-step procedure: first, delayer the original state as much as possible; second, stabilize the room along with the damaged areas, and third, think about how to reinforce and refurbish the room so that it best retains its original character. That may mean overprinting the wall, choosing specific furnishings or light fixtures, or reconstructing an element that has been lost, using the syntax of a different material" (Mack, 2011, p. 317). The restoration project in essence was to reconstitute the oldest and most intact layer of the room to its original state. In the case that original elements were missing, then the architects would design a contemporary reinterpretation keeping in mind the original vision of the designer.

So, where does this method come from? Is there a theory behind the strategy? In Herzog & de Meurons’ approach to the Park Avenue Armory project one can recognize some theoretical ideas about preservation that were developed in the xix Century and that are in one way or another valid until today. Historical positions of authors and architects like John Ruskin, Viollet-le-Duc, and Camilo Boito, even though contradictory in some cases, are mixed to create a unique and interesting juxtaposition of ideas for the execution of the project.

First of all it’s possible to recognize John Ruskins’ argument of the importance of the stain of time.(3) "For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of forcefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity"(Ruskin, 1849, p. 172). As you enter rooms Company d and e, one immediately can sense the pass of time. But it’s confusing since it’s not obvious if what we see is the natural and historical patina or not. In fact what we see is the revelation of the oldest layer that has maintained the marks of the later alterations and the damage of the delayering process. Maybe Ruskin wouldn’t have approved this revealing, since he advocated for the non-intervention and non-restoration of buildings. Moreover he said that people should let buildings die naturally. But Herzog & de Meuron do show the layers by showing the absence of materials and traces that the later interventions left on the original state. For example, in Company e, the Tudor style strapwork that was removed from the ceiling, left marks and voids in the polychromatic original pattern. These marks aren’t hidden or repaired; instead they are left as evident traces of the intervention done in the 1910’s (fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Ceiling restoration, Company E, work in progress. New paint matching the original colors fills out missing spots, but the traces of removed molding are left as evidence.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

On the other hand, and quite opposite to Ruskin, it’s possible to identify some ideas of the French architect Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc(4). "To restore a building is not to preserve it, to repair, or rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness which could never have existed at any given time" (Viollet-Le-Duc, 1875, p. 9). For Herzog & de Meuron one of the main objectives in the project is to reconstruct the integrity of the earliest and most intact state, but they do it a completely different way than Le-Duc. Instead of replacing missing elements with replicas or stylistic imitations, Herzog & de Meuron replace with new elements, which are subtle enough to integrate to the overall character and different enough to distinguish them as new. For example the missing wood carvings were replaced by abstract wood versions (fig. 6), or instead of restoring the damaged parts of the original painted wall with the same pattern, they overprinted a new layer of a reinterpreted pattern to unite the areas that were intact with the patches (fig. 7). Both Le-Duc and Herzog & de Meuron seek a unified integrity, but approach it in a different way.

Fig. 6. To the left: original mahogany lockers detailing, Company D. To the right, the same detailing redone by Herzog & de Meuron to replace missing parts.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Fig. 7. A copper-paint circular pattern covers the wall and unifies the original coat of decorative paintings and the new patches.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

The theory of differentiation and visual notoriety of Camillo Boito(5) is the most evident in this project. His proposal tries to reconcile the conflicting ideas of the previously mentioned authors, suggesting that every new intervention and creation should be clearly identifiable and at the same time subtle. "In the additions, the mass, the contour, the overall appearance should not clash with the monument; the differences will be in the details" (Boito, 2009, p. 78). Herzog & de Meuron are completely honest as they evidence and integrate the new layer. Every new element that is introduced in the rooms would be done in copper and should be a reinterpretation of the original form, never a copy. Mergenthaler explains that they chose that material because of its diversity. It can be used as fabric, as a coating, and as metal. In addition, copper is a material that ages very gracefully and will integrate well to the patina of the building (Mack, 2011, p. 318). So if it’s a new lamp, new curtains, new paint or even a new ceiling, the replacement would be of copper and with a new form that echoes the original (fig. 8). Moreover and continuing with Boito’s suggestions, there is a complete and accurate documentation of the process, which will be accessible in the future in the Library of the Armory.

Fig. 8. New copper lamp. A contemporary version of a missing piece.
Photo: James Ewing; Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

There is not just one method, in fact there are as much theories and methods as decisions that have to be made. In addition to Company Rooms d & e, they recently finished the Board of Officers room and just started to work in the Veteran’s room, but there are 14 other rooms that are waiting to be restored. Each of them has a singular vision that reflects the intention of the original designer. Each of them has had different alterations, some easy to remove, other impossible. Each has different materials, which have to be treated in different ways. And each will be adapted to a singular use. Overall, each room is an individual project that has to be analyzed and confronted in a particular way and in case-by-case basis. Jacques Herzog states: "Every corner raises new questions. The rooms in the Armory building are very distinctive and each of them has to be treated individually" (Mack, 2011, p. 314).

It’s difficult to distinguish which has been Herzog & de Meuron’s trace in this project since they have been extremely subtle in their interventions. But this apparent absence is precisely Herzog & de Meuron’s most innovative and revolutionary contribution to this project and to preservation as a discipline. They carefully work with the imperfections and signs of age in order to enhance de beauty and character of the original. According to Rebecca Robertson, they have been courageous in daring to work in such a historic space and at the same time make changes (Mack, 2011, p. 310).

The work by Herzog & de Meuron is commonly easy to identify. They make big statements with their defined forms and structural and material experimentation. Even their works that involve old buildings, such as the Tate Modern in London, the Caixa Forum in Madrid, or the Espacio Goya project in Zaragoza, include new and distinct features that claim their authorship. The Armory is different. This building is not only seen and valued as a structure and space, but as a cultural heritage. Jacques Herzog states: "We are treating the Armory like a monument, preserving it for the future and above all reinventing it. When European architects build something in New York, they're expected to design a tower or a superstore. Our work on this project is subtler, almost microscopic. (…) Conspicuous gestures of our own would not be appropriate" (Mack, 2011, p. 314). Herzog & de Meuron decided to share the authorship of this work with Clinton, Tiffany, White, Pottier & Stymus and stand out in the details. Their intervention could be described as a camouflage. Just as animals in nature, they combine materiality, color, pattern and form to make them hard to see. This must not be confused with mimesis, a term related with imitation.

Overall, their contribution is a silent reinterpretation of what was lost with a contemporary language. Herzog & de Meuron are leaving their name printed in the walls and character of the Park Avenue Armory without yelling their authorship, but with subtle whispers of inconspicuous and delicate traces of their involvement in the ongoing history of the Seventh Regiment Armory.

 

Notes

1. New York City has 4 designation categories: Individual landmark (protects the exterior of a building), Interior landmark, Historic district and Scenic landmark (parks and emblematic views). The National Register of Historic Places designates places of national significance.

2. Building Conservation Associates Inc. is a historic preservation and conservation consulting firm, based in New York, Philadelphia and Newton Centre, MA.

3. John Ruskin, (February 8, 1819 – January 20, 1900) English writer, art critic y social thinker. Author of influential texts, such as "The Seven Lamps of Architecture", and "The Stones of Venice", amongst others.

4. Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc, (January 27, 1814 – September 17, 1879) French architect and writer, wellknown for his Interpretative restorations in medieval buildings and for his gothic revival style architecture.

5. Camillo Boito (October 30, 1836 – June 28, 1914), Italian Architect, art critic and writer. His suggestions presented in the document "La Prima Carta de Restauro" in 1883 has been influential until today in documents about restoration work, including the Venice Charter in 1964 (ICOMOS).

 

References

BOITO, Camillo. "Restoration in Architecture". Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, Theory, and Criticism, VI (1): 68- 83, 2009.

MACK, Gerhard (ed.). Herzog & de Meuron: Transforming Park Avenue Armory New York. Basel, Birkhauser, 2014.

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. "Park Avenue Armory". AV Monographs, 157-158: 148-159, September 2012.

RUSKIN, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture. London, Smith Elder and Co., 1849.

VIOLLET-LE-DUC, Eugène-Emmanuel. On Restoration and a notice of his Works in connection with the historical monuments of France, by Charles Wethered. Londres, Sampson Low, Marston Low, and Searle, 1875.

ADJAYE, David; HIRSCH , Nikolaus and OTERO -PAILOS , Jorge. "On Architecture and Authorship: A Conversation". Places Journal (on line). Octubre de 2011 (date of consultation: 20th November, 2013). Available at: https://placesjournal.org/article/on-architecture-and-authorship-a-conversation/

FOPPIANO, Anna. "Subtle yet substantive". Abitare, (520): 138- 151, March 2012.

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. Natural History. Philip Ursprung (ed.). Montréal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2002.

IOVINE, Julie. "A Tale of Two Histories". The Wall Street Journal (on line). 15th October 2013. (date of consultation: 16th October 2013). Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304171804579123624007862070.html

LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION. Seventh Regiment Armory Interior (on line). 19th July 1994 (date of consultation: 18th November 2013). Available at: http://neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1994SeventhRegimentArmoryInterior.pdf

LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION. Seventh Regiment Armory Interior (on line). 9th June 1967 (date of consultation: 118th November 2013). Available at: http://neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/SEVENTH-REG-ARMORY.pdf

OTERO-PAILOS, Jorge. "Restoration Redux". Architectural Record, 200(2): 42-43, february 2012.

CHANNEL THIRTEEN . "Park Avenue Armory". The Treasures of New York. 27th October 2011. (TV show).

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. "Park Avenue Armory". AV Monographs, 157-158: 148-159, September 2012.

ROSE, Elihu. Entrevista realizada por Olimpia Lira. September 2013.

STEPHENS, Suzanne "Pattern Language". Architectural Record, (200): 50-53, February 2012.

TOMPKINS MARKET AND ARMORY. www.greenwichvillagehistory.wordpress.com. (date of consultation: 10th October 2013). Available at: http://greenwichvillagehistory.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/tomkins-market-and-armory/


1. Olimpia Lira. Architect, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2009. Master ©, Historical Preservation, Columbia University, 2015. Since 2009 she works as an independent practitioner; she was associate and collaborator in institutions ans studios, such as Fundación Altiplano and Enrique Browne y Asociados Arquitectos in Santiago.

MACK, Gerhard (ed.). Herzog & de Meuron: Transforming Park Avenue Armory New York. Basel, Birkhauser, 2014.         [ Links ]

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. "Park Avenue Armory". AV Monographs, 157-158: 148-159, septiembre de 2012.         [ Links ]

RUSKIN, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture. London, Smith Elder and Co., 1849.         [ Links ]

VIOLLET-LE-DUC, Eugène-Emmanuel. On Restoration and a notice of his Works in connection with the historical monuments of France, by Charles Wethered. Londres, Sampson Low, Marston Low, and Searle, 1875.         [ Links ]

ADJAYE, David; HIRSCH , Nikolaus y OTERO -PAILOS , Jorge. "On Architecture and Authorship: A Conversation". Places Journal (en línea). Octubre de 2011 (fecha de consulta: 20 de Noviembre, 2013). Disponible en: https://placesjournal.org/article/on-architecture-and-authorship-a-conversation/        [ Links ]

FOPPIANO, Anna. "Subtle yet substantive". Abitare, (520): 138- 151, marzo de 2012.         [ Links ]

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. Natural History. Philip Ursprung (ed.). Montréal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2002.         [ Links ]

IOVINE, Julie. "A Tale of Two Histories". The Wall Street Journal (en línea). 15 de octubre de 2013. (Fecha de consulta: 16 de octubre de 2013). Disponible en: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304171804579123624007862070.html        [ Links ]

LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION. Seventh Regiment Armory Interior (en línea). 19 de julio de 1994 (fecha de consulta: 18 de noviembre de 2013). Disponible en:http://neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1994SeventhRegimentArmoryInterior.pdf        [ Links ]

LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION. Seventh Regiment Armory Interior (en línea). 9 de junio de 1967 (fecha de consulta: 18 de noviembre de 2013). Disponible en: http://neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/SEVENTH-REG-ARMORY.pdf        [ Links ]

OTERO-PAILOS, Jorge. "Restoration Redux". Architectural Record, 200(2): 42-43, febrero de 2012.         [ Links ]

CHANNEL THIRTEEN. "Park Avenue Armory". The Treasures of New York. 27 de octubre de 2011. (Programa de television).

HERZOG, Jacques & DE MEURON , Pierre. "Park Avenue Armory". AV Monographs, 157-158: 148-159, septiembre de 2012.         [ Links ] ROSE , Elihu. Entrevista realizada por Olimpia Lira. Septiembre de 2013.         [ Links ]

STEPHENS, Suzanne "Pattern Language". Architectural Record, (200): 50-53, febrero de 2012.         [ Links ]

TOMPKINS MARKET AND ARMORY. www.greenwichvillagehistory.wordpress.com. (Fecha de consulta: 10 de octubre de 2013). Disponible en: http://greenwichvillagehistory.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/tomkins-market-and-armory/        [ Links ]

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