Scott Henson Architect, Ole Sondresen Architect
The old brick warehouse at 58 Kent in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has had a storied life. Part of the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District, the address is actually composed of the facades of three buildings constructed in stages during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The western portion is part of an 1860 Italianate factory building designed by Philemon Tillion. Faber purchased it in 1872 when he moved his pencil-making operation from lower Manhattan across the East River. The tycoon commissioned Brooklyn architect Theobald Engelhardt to design the central section, a Renaissance Revival composition of brick dentil courses and corbelling, bluestone watertables, and cast iron and radiating brick lintels. The eastern section is in the German Romanesque Revival style, with projecting brick header arches at the windows, iron shutter hinges, and cast iron door lintels. The central and eastern sections have pediments featuring the Faber Pencil Company logo. In the mid-1980s the building’s upper stories and interiors were demolished, leaving only the Frankenstein-like collection of street and rear facades.
In 2011, an Internet company purchased the property for its headquarters. The company leadership liked the dilapidated look of the old edifice and accordingly hired local architect Scott Henson to find out if it would be possible to preserve the facade as-is—including the mish-mash of mortar types, anachronistic masonry repairs, broken bricks, and layers of graffiti—while making sure it was watertight and structurally sound. “Everyone agreed that we were not going to take it back to its original condition,” said Henson. “It was important that we preserve the various changes that had happened over the years. That’s kind of atypical in the field of historic preservation.”
While another architect, Ole Sondresen, designed the overall project, Henson worked with historic preservation consultant Cas Stachelberg of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners to conduct a detailed survey of every brick and mortar joint in the facades. Once the survey was completed, he brought on Ken Follett of Quality Restoration Works to analyze and research the various mortar types in the existing building so that they could be replicated as closely as possible. Contractor Urban DC was then brought on to undertake the uncommon task of figuring out what exact parts of the street facade really needed repair, and which could be left alone.
The team drew up a specific set of criteria for determining what parts of the wall required repair. All mortar joints that had deteriorated beyond 3/8-inch deep were cut and re-pointed using Follett’s mortar replicate of what existed in place, whether original or from a more recent patch job. Other areas of the facade were merely spot pointed, a technique used to repair minor holes and deterioration. Some areas of the wall at the base of the Engelhardt-designed addition were so deteriorated that more than 30 percent of the bricks had eroded. The team did not replace these bricks. It repointed them and applied new water-repellent coatings atop the spalled brick to replace the original baked face-finish. The graffiti-covered areas were cut and re-pointed where required, leaving the markings on the brick face, though without any attempt to recreate the paint on the fresh mortar joints. While this level of detail was applied to the street face, 100 percent of the rear was repointed as a money saving measure.
New windows were installed, replacing existing bricked-in openings. They are framed in Corten steel window boxes that float 1½-inches inside the historic apertures. Another piece of Corten steel juts out over the entrance, a minimal gesture of wayfinding that, along with the clearly contemporary glass insertions, serve as the only indication that this dilapidated piece of the Greenpoint urban fabric has entered 21st-century usage.