An articulated dome of glass and steel now rises from the historic Tammany Hall, honoring the building’s namesake on the northeast.
Cover image: © Francis Dzikowski
Seen from below, the dome appears to be an iconic rooftop addition. In fact, the dome is the visible top of a new 6-story building rising from within the restored century-old street walls of the New York City landmark. The undulating, turtle-shell-like dome honors the source of Tammany Hall’s name, the legendary Native American Lenape Chief Tammanend. Known for supporting peaceful coexistence with 17th century European settlers, Tammanend inspired pre- and post-revolutionary political clubs to listen to all voices while they debated what a new republic could be.
Dozens of populist Tammany societies dotted the young United States during the 1800’s, but only New York City’s Tammany Hall survived into the 20th century as an active political organization. By then, the name Tammany had become synonymous with corruption and greed due to various scandals in its past, especially those during the infamous Boss Tweed era of the 1860’s and 70’s. We felt this project presented an opportunity to provide an overdue correction to the legacy of the Tammany name. By turning the building into something it never was, we could tell the story everyone had forgotten.
To refocus public awareness on Tammany Hall’s namesake, BKSK studied the organization’s history of using the chief’s name and other Lenape iconography. We took inspiration from the image of a great turtle rising from the sea—Chief Tammanend’s clan symbol and a scene from the Lenape origin story—to give the Neo-Georgian building the grand dome many Georgian and Neo-Georgian buildings originally had or acquired over time. Almost immediately, and continuing to this day, we consulted with the founders of Manhattan’s Lenape Center to ensure an appropriate use of cultural symbolism.
A Brief History
The Tammany Hall building on Union Square was not the organization’s first building; however, it was their last. It was designed in 1928 by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Thompson, Holmes and Converse. At the time, the design of the new building was an opportunity to move away from the scandals of the 19th century, and to rebrand the organization with quasi-governmental credibility by cloaking itself in an architectural language familiar to the country’s founding fathers. The building’s Neo-Georgian façade design was modeled directly from the original Federal Hall on Wall Street, where George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. Unlike Federal Hall’s bold cupola roof profile, however, Tammany Hall was topped by a tepid slate hipped roof.
The Tammany Hall organization occupied the building from 1929-43, when it sold the building to the local chapter of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. ILGWU started renting the Tammany auditorium to off-Broadway theater companies in the 1980s. One of these, Liberty Theaters, bought the building outright in 1998. Liberty Theaters’ parent company, Reading International Inc. (RDI), decided to rebrand the building as a commercial retail and office property in 2012 and invited BKSK to a limited design competition, organized by Edifice Realty Services. The overall goals of the project were clear: Reimagine the landmark for commercial use and increase the square footage as much as possible through a vertical expansion (taboo territory for New York City individual landmarks). BKSK’s design won the competition, and in 2015 was approved unanimously by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The complicated history of Tammany Hall’s use of Lenape culture presented us with an opportunity to bring attention to the relationship of New York City to its original inhabitants. As early as the 1700’s, the political organization incorporated a romanticized notion of a chief and other Lenape positions of honor within Tammany’s structure without caring for the Lenape people. We recognized the misappropriation of these cultural symbols and saw an opportunity to bring an authentic voice and representation back into the story. After modeling preliminary turtle shell-like domes as a device to add square footage to the building for RDI, we contacted the founders of the Lenape Center in Manhattan to discuss our proposal to use the Lenape symbol of a rising turtle in this context. We were thrilled with their positive reaction and benefitted from their support throughout the public regulatory approval process. We kept the Lenape Center updated on the design and construction process and were honored when two of the organization’s cofounders, Hadrien Coumans and Joe Baker, performed a traditional blessing ceremony inside the dome in October of 2020. The blessing acknowledged the past, present, and future inhabitants of the site with prayer and song. At the conclusion of the blessing ceremony, we told the crowd, “We hope Tammany’s new glass dome appears forever frozen at the very moment that the turtle is breaking through the surface of the sea, shedding water from its shell. Because it is at that moment, this moment, that anything is possible.” We are gratified the completed project exhibits both technological prowess and emotional strength.
The Design Process
Juxtaposing a classically proportioned yet contemporary glass and steel form above Tammany Hall’s Neo-Georgian masonry base allows the dome to complement the landmark building below, yet provide a showcase for the technology of today. To create a parametric mesh evoking an amphibious shell breaking through the surface of water, BKSK used various cross-discipline computer modeling and image-rendering software used in automotive, industrial, architectural and video-game design.
BKSK then brought the mathematical representation of the curving 3-dimensional form to life by deploying a self-supporting freeform grid structural system, a system well suited to undulate effortlessly and enclose a great volume of space. Collaborating with engineers at Thornton Tomasetti and Buro Happold, BKSK produced an early construction document package that was bid on by 10 European fabricators familiar with free-form grid shells. Ultimately, construction manager CNY awarded a design-assist contract to Josef Gartner, a division of Permasteelisa. Working with BKSK, the engineering team optimized the dome’s geometry to achieve the most efficient use of repeated glass sizes and steel shapes.
The Right Glass
To maximize flexibility of tenable uses under a glass dome, the specification of the right glass became crucial to address occupants’ needs for a low-glare and thermally comfortable environment. The design team at BKSK was also challenged with mitigating sunlight reflecting off the convex form onto neighboring buildings, all while maintaining the imagery of a rising shell shedding water. With those issues in mind, the design team visited glass-roofed buildings near and far.
Of the many local and foreign glass roofs visited, the most informative were Norman Foster’s groundbreaking covered courtyard of the British Museum, completed in 2000, and his 2007 encore covering the courtyard of the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., as well as Helmut Jahn’s freestanding glass egg-shaped Mansueto Library, completed in 2011, emerging from the grounds of the University of Chicago.
Coincidentally, the Mansueto Library’s form and use closely resembled our intentions to create a glass-domed workspace. We noted how the fritted glass of Mansueto’s dome performs exceptionally well and was virtually invisible, creating a very low-glare environment with the illusion of clear glass. Our team was inspired to use a similar strategy but quickly learned through sample and mock-up iterations back in New York the effortless effect achieved at Mansueto is due to the height of the fritted glass above the occupants; the higher the better.
We learned when frit is closer to one’s eyes, direct sunlight can be perceived between fritted patches, reaching occupant’s eyes, rendering even very closely placed frit useless. We moved on to study combinations of frit, film, and tinted glass, and eventually chose two insulated-glass-unit assemblies using a combination of clear and tinted glass.
The slightly clearer of the two assemblies encloses the lower areas of the dome where Tammany’s small slate shingled hipped roof once stood. Terra-cotta sunshades protect portions of the re-invented lower tier of the dome in the same inclined plane as the historic slate tiles once sat. Strategic placement of projecting painted stainless-steel fins on the exterior of the upper dome offer articulation to the shell and provide rain and snow control. The most rewarding aspect of the finished project was maintaining a legible image of a rising turtle shedding water throughout design and construction using cutting-edge technology and practical everyday elements.
The glass-domed vertical enlargement encloses an additional 30,000 square feet of rentable space over three floors on the top of the historic building with dynamic views of Union Square and beyond. The dome is comprised of more than 2,000 3 by 6-inch steel tube purlins with customized node intersections and varying wall thickness depending on location.
The glass product is a structurally glazed insulated glass unit comprised of a clear float glass panel with a high-performance sputter coat solar coating on surface two, an air space and two layers of laminated glass: a tinted gray panel and a clear glass panel facing the interior.
The solar coating on surface two is an extremely high selectivity solar control with advanced thermal insulation properties for commercial glazing. It is applied by cathodic sputtering under vacuum conditions. The coating creates a low solar factor to reduce air-conditioning load and has a U-value of 1.0W/m2K, encouraging energy savings and improved thermal insulation. Neither too green nor too blue in appearance, the insulated glass units at Tammany Hall’s dome retain a neutral appearance.
A central challenge during the construction phase involved decoupling the historic 100-year-old street walls from the internal structure of the building, bracing them externally, restoring them and then securing them back to a newly poured concrete structure behind. Unexpectedly, it proved more efficient for CNY to remove the lot line walls against the adjacent neighbors as well, during demolition of the internal structure, leaving only the historic street walls as original fabric from 1928. The resulting building is truly a new Class A commercial mixed-use building referencing the past and ready for tomorrow. The building received a core and shell temporary certificate of occupancy in 2020 and is being actively marketed by ownership.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazine’s Autumn 2021 Issue – Glass Retrospective: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Owner: Reading International, Inc., (RDI), www.readingrdi.com
Owner’s Representative: Edifice Real Estate Partners, www.edificerealestate.com
Architect: BKSK Architects LLP, www.bkskarch.com
Structural Engineers: Thornton Tomasetti, www.thorntontomasetti.com,
Exterior Envelope engineers: Buro Happold, www.burohappold.com
MEPS Engineers: Dagher Engineering, www.dagherengineering.com
Acoustic Engineers: Lewis S. Goodfriend & Associates, www.lsga.com
Lighting Design: Buro Happold, www.burohappold.com
Vertical transportation engineers: IROS Elevator, www.iroselevator.com
Construction Manager: CNY, www.cnygroup.com
Dome Steel and Glass Fabricator/installer: Josef Gartner, a division of Permasteelisa, josef-gartner.permasteelisagroup.com
Historic preservation consultant: Higgins and Quasebarth & Partners, www.hqpreservation.com
Design Software: Rhino 3D, www.rhino3d.com; V-Ray by Chaos Group, www.chaosgroup.com; Autodesk Maya, www.autodesk.com/products/maya/overview; and Autodesk 3ds Max, www.autodesk.com/products/3ds-max/overview, Autodesk Revit
Clear and Tinted Glass: Eckelt, a member of Saint-Gobain, www.saint-gobain-facade-glass.com
- Clear Float Glass Panel: PLANICLEAR
- Tinted Gray Panel: Parsol Grey
- Solar Coating: COOL-LITE XTREME
Author: Todd Poisson, Partner at BKSK
As a Partner at BKSK with over 30 years of experience, Todd Poisson has been responsible for the design and construction of some of BKSK’s most ambitious projects, including adaptive reuse, mixed-use, residential, and institutional types. Todd is the Partner-in-Charge for some special LPC-approved recent projects in addition to 44 Union Square/Tammany Hall, including Gansevoort Row, a block-long redevelopment of a collection tattered lowrise commercial buildings near the High Line in the Gansevoort Market Historic District; and 16 East 16th Street, the conversion and expansion of a historic Ladies Mile building into a hotel.
Recent award-winning, sustainable, NYC projects include The Jefferson and Citizen, two LEED Gold Certified high-end condominium projects, and 470 Columbus, a Passive House multifamily development on the Upper West Side. Todd’s interest in the tools of architectural practice, as well as his steadfast commitment to excellence in project delivery, result in his teams being at the forefront of today’s design technologies and processes. Todd received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University.