From the glass-encased lobby of One John Street, residents will be able to take in some incredible views: The 12-story, 42-unit condominium is located on the eastern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Manhattan Bridge soars over the East River just a stone’s throw away. In fact, Alloy, the building’s architects and co-developers with Monadnock Development, scaled up the windows and the floors to combat the increased noise pollution and solar exposure. But Alloy wanted more than just a glass box on the East River, so it tapped Brooklyn-based SITU Studio. “They came to us to create these sculptural panels that wrap around the structural core of the building,” said SITU Studio partner Wes Rozen.
SITU Studio, the firm behind the new Brooklyn Museum entrance, the NYSCI Design Lab, and the Heartwalk in Times Square, has a heavy emphasis on fabrication and material experimentation in their practice. For this project, the creative process began with a building being torn down: The Tod Williams and Billie Tsien–designed American Folk Art Museum. “We [SITU and Alloy] both were sad to see [the museum] go,” said Rozen. “So that was an inspiration for what we were trying to achieve, just in terms of the texture in the concrete. From there, we began by looking at various things we could cast to get texture: different types of plastics, fabrics, things that we could put underneath or on top of the fabric, to create different patterns and textures. We wanted something organic.”
SITU Studio undertook several months of experimentation in a rented space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (its other fabrication spaces were at capacity). Early on, the firm challenged itself to create panels where the artists’ hands weren’t too visible: “We wanted a texture that seemed like it could’ve been just found in nature,” said Rosen. “We wanted to author the process, but the materials themselves would be given the freedom to do what they wanted.” Eric Weil of Oso Industries, a Brooklyn-based studio whose specialties include concrete installations, consulted and assisted during the fabrication process.
The team found their wabi sabi sweet spot with a mixture of salt and beeswax. For each panel, SITU Studio stretched acetate over a sheet of crumpled paper on a table; this surface created a gently irregular topography to cast against. After encasing the acetate on four sides with a one-inch-deep casting formwork, they poured pools of melted beeswax on the acetate, along with pellets of beeswax and salt granules to achieve a fine texture. SITU Studio then poured on concrete (colored with black pigment) that was further reinforced by mixed in loose fiberglass, and a carbon-fiber mesh overlay.
Once dried for three days, the panels were heated inside a custom-made oven that could angle upward. “The reason why the oven lifts is so that, as the wax is heated and melts out of the panels, it stains these vertical lines, little drip lines, into the concrete, which is something we were excited about as a subtle feature,” said Rozen. After that, the wax and salt could be easily dissolved or washed out.
The end result looks like it’s been pulled from a blast furnace or a foundry wall: “In the right light, the panels look almost metallic where the concrete has cured against the acetate,” Rosen said. Other parts of the surface are cratered and pockmarked like a lunar surface. In total, 63 panels from 17 to 11.5 feet tall (all two feet wide) stand in the lobby facing John Street and within the stairs around the core. They will also be visible from the street when the building opens this summer.
General Contracting and Construction Management
De Nardis Engineering, LLC