By Luke Carothers
Located in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan’s historic Seaport, the Tin Building by Jean-Georges is a sprawling culinary destination. While the concept is new—housing multiple restaurants with open kitchens, innovative retail concepts, and a central market—the building itself was constructed in 1907 as the center of the Fulton Fish Market. The Tin Building is a landmarked structure within a landmarked neighborhood. However, in the time the Tin Building has held its place in lower Manhattan, the structure has been subject to several events that necessitated its recent revival.
In more than a century of existence, the Tin Building has earned its reputation as a historic structure, but its existence has been challenged by both flood and fire. After a fire in 1995 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, large portions of the building’s historic artifacts and features had been damaged or destroyed. To preserve the structure and protect it from future flooding events, a plan was created to move the building 32-feet to the east and set about restoring the historic characteristics of the building. Mancini Duffy took over as the Architect of Record for the Tin Building project when construction started, and oversaw the execution of the design and construction of the building through its completion. This process included disassembling the historic structure and reassembling it at its new location, while also elevating it six feet to be above the 100-year flood plain. For the restoration process, this meant salvaging, saving, and restoring more than 300 historic artifacts for reassembly.
Jessica Sheridan, principal at Mancini Duffy, describes the Tin Building project as “unique” in its ability to challenge the frames of reference for the teams working on the project. While all the teams working on the project were immensely experienced in their frame of reference, the unique challenges posed by moving, elevating, and restoring a historic structure meant that “everyone had to support each other,” according to Sheridan. Coordination between teams was also facilitated through BIM 360 and Navisworks.
One of the primary challenges in this project was raising the building, which was a part of their sustainability and resilience efforts. Since the building had been damaged by flooding during hurricane Sandy in 2012, there was a clear need to elevate the building above the floodplain. However, simply raising the building where it stood would mean the building would touch the FDR elevated highway. This prompted moving the structure 32-feet to the east, which meant dismantling the building. To prepare the new location, the team had to drive in new piles and elevate this new location before reassembling the building.
To further complicate this process, the team had to prove to the department of transportation that this new building location would not compromise the FDR highway in any way, which became a challenge because—as a further result of hurricane Sandy—many of the historic records were damaged or destroyed. To overcome these challenges, Sheridan says the team had to rely on repeated testing and borings to prove the building wouldn’t compromise the highway’s elevated structure. Another challenge came in the form of sourcing materials, which can be common when restoring historic structures as construction methods change over time. On the Tin Building project, this meant instead of using tin, the team used aluminum in many places to replicate the historic facade.
Another major component of the Tin Building project, and a major factor that has made it an important place in the community, is its access to the three piers that come together on the site. According to Sheridan, while there is a “static portion of the site that’s connected to Manhattan Island,” the adjacent piers moved between six inches and a foot in either direction. Sheridan continues, saying, “Figuring out the connection points where all the piers came together and the details of the door thresholds … in some of those places was tricky to figure out.” The connection between the three piers is a major historical reason for the Tin Building’s historical significance, which made this an important consideration during the construction process.
On the interior of the Tin Building project, the goal was to maintain as much of the interior space as possible, which was difficult due to the amount of damage done from the flooding and fire. The interior restoration was framed around 44 of the original cast iron columns. While many of the original columns were able to be restored and reused, an additional four needed to be replicated. Four original columns also no longer fit the height of the space where they were needed, so steel collars were created to extend the columns to the necessary height. These cast iron columns were used to create a canopy over the west side of the building’s interior. Also included in the restoration work were the fine details of the facade such as the cornices and pediments. These elements were rebuilt in the early 2000s, but, according to Sheridan, they weren’t restored in an historically-accurate manner. To restore these elements in a more historically-accurate manner, the team sourced original photographs of the structure and recreated them according to the details shown before the damage and restoration.
In addition to recreating and restoring the Tin Building’s past, a major component of the project was centered around preparing it for the future. On top of moving the building and raising it above the 100-year floodplain, the building was reconstructed with an interstitial space under the ground floor. Around the perimeter of this space, large wall openings were created to allow water to come in and out in the event of a flood while also alleviating some of the hydrostatic pressure. This also necessitated moving all of the equipment onto the roof, which, according to Sheridan, was “tricky” in that it meant coordinating with all the different restaurants. However, this move was necessary in that it elevated anything critical to the building’s operation.
Despite the project’s complexity, the Tin Building has now entered a new era of its historic existence through careful coordination and summary execution of an ambitious construction plan. Sheridan herself has been coming to the neighborhood since she was a child, and looks back to her memories of the place as a shopping mall. Despite understanding its importance, Sheridan always felt that the space could be something more, and this project is an important part of the restoration of the entire Seaport area. For Sheridan, the Tin Building restoration represents an important step in “bringing the local community onto the Seaport [to experience] the water.”
Photo Credit: Mike Van Tassell
ROLE & FIRM
Architect-of-Record, Core & Shell: Mancini Duffy
Design Architect, Core & Shell: SHoP Architects
Architect-of-Record, Interiors: Cass Calder Smith Architecture + Interiors
Designer, Interiors: Roman and Williams
Preservation Architect: Jan Hird Pokorny Associates
Structural Engineer: Desimone Consulting Engineers
MEP Engineer: WSP
Civil/Landscape Engineer: Stantec
Survey/Pier Engineer: Langan Engineers
Landscape: James Corner Field Operations
Landscape: Penmax Engineering
Traffic Consultant: Philip Habib Associates
Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Assocaites
Code Consultant: ARUP
Lighting Design: Tillotson Design Associates