“How can cast-iron architecture be relevant, but not literal?” This is the question that Morris Adjmi’s office asked when approaching the design of 83 Walker Street, a 9-story 19,000-square-foot residential building slated for completion later this year. In response, the architects designed an articulated wall surface of abstracted cast iron elements—posts and beams—that were cast into thickened pre-cast concrete wall panels. This “inverted” effect, the architects said, help to “evoke how cast iron was historically produced and assembled.”
Morris Adjmi, principal at Morris Adjmi Architects (MA), said the lot width—at approximately 25 feet—was a common dimension for cast-iron loft buildings in the district and helped his project team in defining the composition of the facade. Despite a continuous program of residential units throughout the nine-story building, a “base-middle-top” composition strategy was employed to reference historic structures in the neighborhood. This equated to variation at the ground floor, a three-bay window subdivision in the middle floors, and a four-bay subdivision at the upper floor. This bay spacing acted as an organizational grid, informing window heights, proportions, and detailed articulation of the facade.
The floor-to-floor pre-cast panels were initially designed as individual window bays but ended up being designed to the full width of the building. This allowed the structural reinforcement of the panels to be more efficient while also reducing the need for vertical joint lines between panels. Large window openings were infilled with mahogany wood units and configured as faux double hung tilt turn windows to satisfy historic appearance concerns. These special windows feature a fixed unit above with an in-swing awning below.
Adjmi says he has had extensive experience in working with pre-cast concrete and finds it to be a useful material due to the range of shapes and articulation that can be produced. He says an understanding of waterproofing techniques and the mold-making process of pre-cast panels helps to determine effective panel shapes and detailing strategies.
The soft stone finish of the concrete, evocative of adjacent buff limestone facades, was carefully specified after a close collaboration between the architects and concrete panel manufacturer through studying various samples and finishes. The integral colored concrete was sandblasted to produce a subtle variation in texture and color for a more natural appearance. The resulting front elevation, composed of only nine panels, produces enough depth to cast generous shadow lines into deep recesses of the facade, a key feature that Adjmi attributes as one of the most successful features of the project. “The depth of this facade really works well in the streetscape. A lot of our projects try to do this. When you first see the building you don’t notice anything, and then the more you look at it the richer it becomes.” He concludes, “I think that it is both very modern and respectful of the neighborhood. It doesn’t feel like trying to copy the immediately surrounding buildings too literally but at the same time it questions and highlights how these buildings came together.”