From the outside, the Anthology Film Archives appears to be a modestly sized brick building cornering the busy streets of E. 2nd St. and 2nd Ave. in the Lower East Side. But inside the classical masonry cube exists one of the most enticing gems in the independent film world. The Anthology, equipped with one of the largest film archives, is a crucial cultural institution that supports young filmmakers as well as independent cinema research and education. Now, more than 30 years after its last transformation, the building is finally getting the makeover it was always destined to have.
New York City–based Bone Levine Architects has been collaborating with the Anthology for the past four years to devise the best strategies for expanding the building to accommodate new programming and update the existing facilities. “We want to get the Anthology in shape for the next 50 years so this institution has viability,” stated Kevin Bone. The final proposal for the renovations was recently approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and construction is set to be complete by 2020.
The brick building, originally constructed as a municipal courthouse in 1919, was reopened as the Anthology in 1988 after the institution moved from its former location in Soho. The initial transformation from courthouse to cinema was led by architect Raimund Abraham (1933-2010), although his plans for the full revival of the art house were put on halt, until now. Kevin Bone of Bone Levine Architects, who worked as an associate to Raimund Abraham, told The Architect’s Newspaper that in 1988 “a lot of our ambitions were cut back in beginning [because of a limited budget]. It was ‘let’s make the basic building function the best as we can.’”
Thirty-five years later, the building’s transformation is finally happening. Primary features of the renovation consist of a one-story addition that will house the expanded library, a new roof terrace area, and the development of the site’s alleyway space as a cafe. The firm settled on cladding the additional story with coated copper panels and a bronze wire mesh screen. “We felt that the notion of an architectural metal addition was the most appropriate so that the artifact, the masonry artifact… was best left as a pure artifact and the additional elements were clearly identified as belonging to their own vocabulary.”
This juxtaposition is also carried out in the development of the alleyway connecting the Anthology with its neighboring warehouse. Greatly inspired by Abraham’s original designs, the 12-foot-wide alley space is going to be encased in a glass and iron cylindrical form. “In Raimund’s case that cylinder became a stop, that was a filler within that void between the two buildings… and was not intended to be an opening to the building…. We wanted to reverse that language and make this cylinder a kind of lantern that can be illuminated, and provide a secondary entrance into the Anthology facilities and into [the] cafe.” The isolated entrance allows the cafe to be distinguished as a separate space and opens it up to the public to provide “some badly needed public space.”
The approval from the LPC for the Anthology expansion was particularly uncertain due to the visibility of the renovations on a historic building. Bone praised the LPC for “recognizing that historic buildings that are occupied by cultural institutions might need to transform to remain viable and that may require a slightly more courageous strategy towards the architecture… we are really happy to be a part of that.”
Although the building is only in its fifth year of being a historic landmark, the architects are committed to preserving the Anthology’s authenticity and respect the cinema’s historical structure. “The integrity of the Anthology is impeccable,” stated Bone, “[and] that was part of [the designs]. What could we do for ourselves, on our own, that is exclusively devoted to the mission of the Anthology Archives.”