Ask any developer or management company about the intricacies of working on a landmarked building, and one word usually emerges: nightmare. Jordan Rogove and Wayne Norbeck co-founded New York City-based architecture and design firm DXA studio a decade ago to provide a balance of expertly-crafted design with technical proficiency. Believing in the power of architecture to positively influence the lives of all that engage it, the firm has extensive experience guiding projects through complex municipal approval processes including the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), community boards and Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). Below, Rogove and Norbeck provide insight into the many unique challenges and opportunities that landmarked projects offer architects.
Have the challenges of landmarked projects changed over the years?
Rogove: Physically, the challenges of restoring older buildings have remained the same. However, as every project comes with unique vantage and drawbacks, so does the landmark process. With different commissioners, architects deal with different priorities and concerns. As New York City is ever expanding and changing, our conversations have been as well. We have seen demand shift from new developments to spacious townhouses just this past year, but one thing always stays the same: New Yorkers love their history. The challenge is that history is all-encompassing but so subjective to everyone involved. At 102 Greene Street in SoHo, we had a great conversation with the community board who emphasized the importance of the original cast-iron door and panel at the entrance of the building. Designed by artist William Tarr, this became the building’s defining symbol and main feature of our historical renovation.
It is a delicate balance bridging the gap between historic and contemporary practice. At 827-831 Broadway, we had been challenged to take modern-day architectural materials, such as steel and glass, and make them an expressive reflection of what took place in the building. This location was the home and studio of several artists including Willem de Kooning at the beginning of the Abstract Expressionism era; as such, DXA sought to design a vertical enlargement befitting this immense cultural history. We took the central theme of Abstract Expressionism — abstracting, distorting and reassembling — to convey the strong emotional and expressive content throughout the architectural design, just as the artists that lived and worked there had done with their work.
We are also seeing the state of the economy creating challenges for landmarked projects. With an increase in material prices, the cost of maintaining a landmark change and renovation may become too difficult to make feasible. Architects are seeing this as a challenge on the horizon, with some buildings becoming too expensive to rescue.
How have the trends in luxury design changed in the past 14 months?
Norbeck: Just as everything has this year, the concept of luxury has seen a complete shift in focus, and the critical importance of outdoor space is one such change in what’s now expected. This is happening not only in terms of personal types of outdoor space, such as balconies and terraces directly off of residential units, but also with amenity spaces that spill out into common areas including lounges, co-working and exercise spaces.
Does that favor landmarks, which often have more and larger rooms?
Rogove: We have not necessarily seen a shift in the definition of luxury for landmarked projects in recent years. More so, landmarked projects are embedded with their own history and authenticity that makes for unique design opportunities. DXA studio recently worked on a historic church conversion [into residential] on the Upper West Side, at 140 West 81st St. Our design, which was approved unanimously by the Landmarks Preservation Commission upon its first public hearing, married the history of the building with the contemporary needs of the new residential program. All seven apartments in the building interface with different parts of the historic church, providing residents with incredibly whimsical and unexpected moments.
Has sourcing construction materials become more difficult?
Norbeck: With the strain on the supply chain due to COVID-19, whether from inflation in lumber distribution, the timing interruptions that have occurred in the customary movement of shipping containers or the impact of workers being at home and not in factories, we’ve seen a major impact in terms of delays and supply of materials to our projects.
As a result, we’ve looked for new relationships with local suppliers and we’ve had an opportunity to refresh our palette of go-to materials, finishes and appliances. The positive flip side is that in many cases this sourcing has emphasized a more sustainable approach that in turn creates value for our clients.