Activating Vacant Spaces: Atop 875 Washington Street

April 18, 2017

by Hope Pollonais and Jared Cole

 875 Washington Street, featuring a mural created by the artistic duo ASVP, is in context with the street art of Meatpacking. Photography: Jack Kucy

Vacant space is ubiquitous in New York City; it’s both a problem and a resource. The city holds more space than most realize and the question remains: just what should we do with empty space?

First, we can recognize the opportunity to create temporary or permanent attractions to revitalize spaces where people can participate. We can create value – a role that architecture can fulfill –  in the activation of spaces. Themes such as color, culture, regeneration and public intervention illustrate architecture’s current potential.

Such an opportunity existed at 875 Washington Avenue where HLZAE’s Richard Moses and Jared Cole found a way to place art on a non-historic rooftop bulkhead. They proposed the roof deck solve a social problem and create a beneficial environment for the building.  This roof deck is a significant value-add for the owner of the building and the tenants that will benefit from it.

 “We were challenged to make the roof an attractive and unique destination,” says HLZAE Project Manager Jared Cole.The site is located in the heart of the Meatpacking District, but also within the boundary of the Gansevoort Market Historic District. Therefore, we wanted our design to be fueled in part by the palpable energy of Meatpacking, knowing that any extensive modifications to the existing roof elements would be subject to review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.”

Richard Moses said his team wanted to “…incorporate art into our design as a strategy to imbue the roof space with a sense of uniqueness.” They melded the neighborhood’s utilitarian past with contemporary architectural interventions. The project roof contained an exposed water tower and a large corrugated metal bulkhead visible from the High Line. The bulkhead wall would serve as the canvas, allowing the opportunity to transform an existing utilitarian element into a dynamic backdrop to the roof deck. The LPC agreed with their logic and approved the art mural. Multicolored architectural lighting illuminates the roof deck and water tower in the evening, acting like a beacon in the night visible from the High Line.

This art installation illustrates how design can be a catalyst for the creation of meaningful and joyful places that facilitate community engagement and growth. Through projects like this, we can re-purpose public space to be more universally accessible, inclusive, age friendly, and a builder of a sense of community. Reprogramming the shadowy areas under bridges, the off-peak city centers and the urban scrub lots unlocks both the potential of the space and the collective potential of our imagination. Re-engaging our youthful perception of the city as a malleable landscape empowers us to realize, that the currently dead spaces surrounding us aren’t the end of those spaces, but the beginning.

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