Not too long ago I was giving an architectural walking tour in the Madison Square Park area when somebody asked me "what's going on with the Commodore Criterion building?" If you've been by the park you've probably seen the building at the intersection of Fifth Avenue, 25th Street, and Broadway with its name fixed atop the tall stone parapet. I had no answer to the question, except that the Christmas display over the front door had not come down in years, meaning the building was most likely vacant. What I did not know at the time was that Spanish tile/kitchen/bath company Porcelanosa bought the building last summer. Since my tour I've also learned that Porcelanosa hired Foster + Partners to transform the six-story building into their US/NYC flagship showroom.
[All images courtesy of Foster + Partners and Porcelanosa]
The building at 202 Fifth Avenue, which dates back to 1918, has already been gutted, ready for the insertion of a public showroom on the lower levels (above rendering) and a materials library atop the building for architects and designers (below rendering). The showroom is a three-story space that extends from the cellar to the second floor. Plenty of light infuses the showroom through offset openings in the ground floor and second floor. In a statement, Norman Foster describes how "the design will create new visual connections vertically through the
building and will introduce a greater variety of spaces, with a series
of dramatic interlocking levels." Befitting for the architect, the interior is simple and clean, gallery-like in appearance.
The materials library atop the building is a double-height space where additional light comes in through new skylights that recall James Turrell's skyspaces. The below sketch—an east-west section looking south—shows these spaces at the top and bottom of the building, with two floors of offices in between. More importantly, this section shows the location of the stairs and services along the west facade (as they are in the existing), meaning that light previously entered the narrow building only through windows on the south and east sides. Hence Foster's decision to cut up the floor plates and insert skylights atop the building. A good deal of the budget will probably go toward these structural changes, but these renderings make it clear that it's worth it.
The building sits within the southern tip of the Madison Square North Historic District (PDF link), meaning that any changes to the building have to be reviewed by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Comparing the photomontage below with the Google Street View I'd wager that won't be a problem, given that new windows on the ground floor and the new name atop the building are the only noticeable changes. Again Foster says, "the design will restore historic aspects of the exterior and create a
new interior experience of large–volume showroom spaces – all within
the context of a sustainable agenda." (LEED Gold is the target.)
Manuel Prior, U.S. Branch Director for Porcelanosa says in a statement: "As a staple of New York’s Flatiron district for years, the Commodore Criterion is the ideal location for Porcelanosa’s new flagship showroom as the neighborhood is the epicenter of New York’s architecture and design community." Epicenter may be overstating it, but I can vouch that a lot of architects and other designers work in the area; I worked for an architect about four blocks up Broadway (near the Ace Hotel, a magnet for designers and other "creative types") and Pentagram is right next door (note the abstracted P on the flag in the below photo).
Porcelanosa's flagship showroom is one of three projects in New York City that Norman Foster is currently working on, including the high profile 425 Park Avenue and the controversial transformation of the New York Public Library's main building into a circulating library. By comparison the 1,700-square-meter (18,000 sf) renovation overlooking Madison Square Park may be a walk in the park. We'll see if that's the case—literally, as I'll be making occasional site visits between now and the showroom's completion in spring 2014, documenting the construction on this blog. So check back here to see Foster's design for Porcelanosa take shape.