20 May 2008

And in this Corner...

And in this corner, our new office.... 40 feet frontage on Eldridge Street....

...with a view of our very own Guggenheim (the semi-circular local Public School at Hester Street) from the third floor.
But is it Green in this hardscrabble corner of China Town?

Yes, and we relate below how we did this gut renovation in just over 8 weeks.

The loft building, one of a very few on the Lower East Side, is an all concrete structure built for heavy manufacturing by the Witty Brothers, a stone throw from the Manhattan Bridge off-ramp. The facade material and ceiling heights appear far nobler, than the condition we found on the inside.
Most of the eight floors continue to house garment factories, producing the continuous steam out the back-facing facades, and the resulting corrosion of the windows and fire-escape metal work. Street-side the windows were in far better shape, requiring eliminating the add-hoc installation of window AC units and grille work. All side party-line windows had been long-blocked by steel shutters. We are pleased to find a space in such terrible shape, gracefully aged and empty of most partitioning, to start a new adventure in office/homesteading - what we had begun 15 years ago on Chrystie Street.

The gutting began three days after we signed our lease and was well manage by a crew of Malay workers that took pains to separate every material by type and by size, and to be carried by one person, so that no dumpsters were needed to clean out the 4,000 square foot space.
While this was on-going we began a thorough breakdown of our former loft space, preparing donations of all tables and cabinets, books and magazines to the NYPL, and preparing the re-use of project samples to be built into the new space: door hardware and fittings, large glass samples from a Herzog & de Meuron facade and so-on. How better to design a green project, then to reduce from the outset the construction material needed - and the embedded energy in the products - by using all the samples we had accumulated over the years?

During the build-out, we were aware that we could afford no delays to acquire any materials, so we specified only what we could find on hand, preferably not far from the Bowery.
When this failed, we approached some of our favorite manufactures to secure donations to showcase some of their products, and we limited this exclusively to three areas: lighting, acoustical material and sun shading. It worked and we were able to get materials delivered perfectly in sequence to the on-going construction. The only single item that failed to meet the schedule for a project that included all new mechanical, water closets, kitchen, wood shop, new electrical and lighting throughout - was the sliding door handles from Design Source on Bowery, long the preferred source of architectural hardware. Buying local, then, as we did on many products - as well as avoiding the trip across the Manhattan Bridge to cheaper chain outfits - did not always produce the right results.

But, there is an even better end to this story. How to furnish this new build-out? Furniture production and contemporary product design, unfortunately remains a very toxic business. Very few products that meet our functionality and design sensibility can really claim to be "cradle-to-cradle"; unless of course, you are actively helping to prevent these products from reaching the first stage of the cradle process, by re-using, recycling furniture from somewhere else. This is what we were able to do, by the combined fortuitous efforts of our office, a non-profit group with whom we have worked with for a number of years on sustainable lighting projects, and a privately held bank founded by a philanthropic-minded executive, who was moving headquarters from their mid-town location.

During construction of our space, where we acted as GC as well, our team also began to assist this bank with the assessment, breakdown and eventual removal of their entire office furnishings and equipment to a non-profit. A portion of these FFE items were sold at cost to us, and a portion as compensation for the move-out coordination. The result is nothing from the Midtown location found itself in a dumpster despite the very tight move-out schedule and building security and the furniture found a new life up-state and downtown. It is worth mentioning that this furniture line, which we took pains to save, contains no glues, wood by-products, VOC paints or finishes, and has an assume life-space of 50 years. Originally designed in 1970's they will have time to be in and out of fashion more than once, without ever going to McDonough's honorable "cradle" - certainly more than we will be able to say about ourselves.