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Upjohn One Upped
Historic downtown church flexes its real estate muscles with new Pelli Clarke Pelli tower.
Rendering of Pelli Clarke Pelli's tower.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli

Nestled amid the towers of the world’s biggest banks and finance companies, Trinity Wall Street, a relatively diminutive neo-Gothic structure designed by Richard Upjohn in 1846, might seem quaint. But with assets estimated at more than $2 billion (thanks, in large part, to a colonial land donation in 1705), Trinity is right at home with its wealthy neighbors. Though its bank account would be the envy of many parishes, it is generating internal strife since the church must now decide how to best deal with its considerable real estate holdings.

At the moment, the source of this tension is the building code of its 90-year-old administrative office at 68-74 Trinity Place. Faced with a $33 million price tag for building-related work aimed at meeting 2018 code compliance, the church’s vestry, or overseeing board, is considering razing the existing structure and building a new, fully-compliant one for an estimated $35 million. As a way to explore this option, it engaged two design firms—COOKFOX Architects and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects—to carry out conceptual designs.

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli

On July 24, the Vestry of Trinity Church announced it had selected Pelli Clarke Pelli to build a new tower. “We are delighted to be able to engage the extraordinary talents of Pelli Clarke Pelli as we move forward in the design and development process to create an inspiring new mixed-use ministry building that complements Richard Upjohn’s historic Trinity Church,” Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector of the church, said in a statement. “The new structure will include a six or seven-story base dedicated to mission activities and related offices, topped by a 25-story residential tower. The building will provide a source of revenue so we can begin to prepare for significant expansion of our core ministry activities, which include philanthropic grant-making, homeless outreach, and the program life of one of the city’s most diverse congregations.”

The church asked other teams to submit designs, but it was COOKFOX and Pelli Clarke Pelli that answered the call. “Our criteria for inviting these architects was that they would be committed to great design, that they had done a number of buildings in New York, and that they would be excited and challenged by the commission,” said Linda Hanick, Trinity’s vice-president of communications and marketing.

The COOKFOX design included heavily planted terraces.
Courtesy COOKFOX

Both schemes included six or seven stories of administrative offices topped by a 25-story residential tower that will pay for the project and help keep the church coffers full. Prior to the announcement, the firms were barred from speaking about the project, but the church released renderings of each design and a video of comments by the architects. Pelli Clarke Pelli’s glass-and-steel tower is meant to minimize its impact on the historic site. COOKFOX proposed a stone-and-glass structure with heavily planted outdoor space.

For Hanick, this is an exercise in due diligence. “This is a big decision and we have taken a very careful approach,” she said. Some parishioners still need convincing, including Jeremy Bates, who, in February, filed a lawsuit stemming from what he saw as the church’s distraction from its core values. A public meeting on June 30, attended by 50 people, provided a venue to comment on the plans and architectural designs. When asked if it had been contentious, Hanick remarked, “it was an exciting opportunity to ask questions.”

John Gendall