Park Avenue Armory, New York
The Park Avenue Armory is one of the great national treasures of the United States. It was the headquarters of the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, in which the men of many of New York’s foremost families served and celebrated glittering social events. In keeping with the elite social status of its members, the building was designed in the mid-1870s as the most magnificent example of its kind and soon became a highly regarded hub of the city’s cultural life. Today, no other building in the country houses as many highly decorated rooms of the Gilded Age. The drill hall is a supreme example of iron frame architecture and one of the largest unobstructed interiors in New York City.
The passing of time has left its mark on the Park Avenue Armory, but in spite of all the changes and damage, the substance of the building has prevailed and the high quality of its interior fittings is still in evidence. In order to rescue the building, concerned citizens launched an initiative that led to the founding of the Park Avenue Armory organization, which entered into a 99-year lease with the State of New York to save the building and transform it into a new arts center in Manhattan to be enjoyed by the public. Today, the Park Avenue Armory not only has a new lease on life through its new function as a cultural center: work is also beginning on its restoration.
Herzog & de Meuron have been commissioned to refurbish the building. Not only do they possess enormous experience of arts venues and cultural spaces, but also have a strong background in projects involving historic buildings. Working closely with leading experts in the field, including New York architects Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, the restoration consultants of Building Conservation Associates, and specialty artisans, they have developed a process for the treatment of the period rooms, based on meticulous tests and analysis. Company Rooms D and E on the second floor served as pilot rooms, in which these processes were tested and refined in 2010 and 2011. They are completed and give an impression of the unique wealth of design talent that gave the Park Avenue Armory its singular identity amid the diversity of New York.
Herzog & de Meuron’s interventions, many of which are new to the US, are geared towards both the great historical significance of the building and its new use as a cultural hub of New York City. The façade, the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, and the period rooms of the head house are to be renovated and brought up to today’s technical standards and, wherever possible, the rich historical detail of the design is to be revealed. This three-step process involves removal, or “delayering” of non-contributing accumulations and layers down to the best-preserved and preferably oldest decorative scheme dating from 1879-81, then stabilizing it, along with any damaged areas, before integrating it into an overall look that comes as close as possible to retaining the original holistic character of the room. The many changes that the Armory has undergone over the years, starting with its electrification in 1897, are revealed in various different layers and styles. The Gilded Age will be brought back to life in the form of one of its most iconic monuments and, at the same time, presented in its historical context. The aim is not merely to restore the past eras, but to develop an individual, distinctive concept of design and function for each room. Anyone entering the first three completed period rooms will sense how closely the present is intertwined with the past.