Jul 24, 2023

Retrofitting Couples Innovation and Legacy

The character of many large cities is a balance between history and the future. Nowhere is that possibly truer than in New York, a city known for its vibrancy and constant evolution, rooted deeply in legacy and tradition. Often the architecture of New York is wildly disparate. Occasionally, a design team chooses to blend the traditional and modern to create something incredible. In New York's Chelsea neighborhood, one project is turning heads with the perfect marriage of old and new.

Located just off the High Line, 520 West 20th Street challenges what it means to retrofit architecture. This commercial property, aptly named The Warehouse, is an adaptive reuse project designed by Morris Adjmi Architects and fabricated by The Miller Clapperton Partnership. More than 14,000 square feet of custom ALPOLIC/fr adorn the modern addition while maintaining the foundation of the original industrial structure.

Stretching the bounds of renovation and innovation, the three-story glass and MCM overbuild daringly balances on top of the original four-story brick structure, creating a new 85,000-square-foot workspace.

Although differences in style and form are most apparent, the materials used in classic, or historic, architecture differ greatly from those used in contemporary structures. Technology plays a critical role in the inherent differences in approach. While most mature buildings utilize materials that were readily available, such as brick and timber, modern structures tend to use industrialized materials such as glass, steel, and ALPOLIC metal composite material (MCM).

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The design of the Warehouse addition focuses on the balance of retaining the building's legacy and inspiring sustainable progress. It both compliments and challenges the architecture of the High Line district.

Morris Adjmi Architects had used MCM in past projects. Use of ALPOLIC here was designed, as noted by Studio Director Lucas Posada, "to maintain the historic integrity of the original structure while creating an environment inspired by innovative technology and materials, designed to support a modern way of living and working."

The mixture of the two disciplines is both intriguing and controversial. Some believe it achieves a very contrasting and bold design, unparalleled by most one-dimensional works. While many enjoy the combination of old and new, others prefer the original structures to remain unchanged.

Occasionally architects are given the opportunity to create an extension on a historic building, where the fusion of aged and contemporary is created. 520 West 20th Street is such an example. While the original warehouse exterior was left mostly untouched, the addition draws inspiration from the older design and calls passersby to appreciate the combination of old and new.

The four-story original brick warehouse grounds the project in the history of the area while the cantilevered steel and glass addition, distinguished by a bespoke black metallic matte finish, pulls 520 West into the future. The contemporary renovation, as Morris Adjmi Architects have noted is, "...literally serving as an actual and metaphorical bridge between the past and present."

Added Eric Harris, production manager for The Miller Clapperton Partnership, "The geometry and size of these panels, to go along with the attached appliques, made for a very challenging project." Miller Clapperton's designation as a Certified MCM Fabricator by the Metal Construction Association made them an excellent fit to work with the architects for this project.

"Our engineering and production teams worked together closely to create a design plan that would give the customer the unique look they were asking for," said Harris. The firm's experience with MCM cladding and attachment systems for complex projects allowed for the Warehouse's addition to come to life.

The Warehouse project has stayed true to the heritage of the building while infusing elegance and modernity. It is a marvel and a true study of mixed material use that has created a new icon in New York's Chelsea art district. It stands as proof that bringing older buildings into the modern era doesn't require a total tear down. Retrofitting can often provide a fresh new life at significant cost savings.

MCM is a popular choice for designers looking to retrofit established building. Whether the driving force is for improved sustainability and energy efficiency, replacing failed architectural elements that did not stand the test of time, or refreshing the look to match current sensibilities, the versatility of MCM is practically limitless. Highly recyclable and manufactured with sustainability in mind, MCM as a green solution as well as a cost-effective one.

Throughout North America, MCM is the go-to choice for modernizing the look of building facades. Lightweight, easy to fabricate and install, and offered in the widest variety of finishes, this sustainable cladding material provides design flexibility and trailblazing solutions to projects across the world, including those that introduce new innovations in the restoration of historic buildings. With the Warehouse in New York, the production team at Miller Clapperton created greater dimensionality with multiple folds in the fabrication.

The northeast region of the US, in particular New York, inspires retrofitting projects because the area is rooted in history and always at the cutting edge for design. The Northeast represents a perfect example of when architects choose to work with an existing structure — rather than around or in place of it — and the results can be awe-inspiring. These buildings are like a force of nature and have the ability to transform a neighborhood. These projects prove that when NYC combines historic and modern architectural design, they produce something better than the sum of their parts.

Chris Alvares is the Northeast architectural sales manager for ALPOLIC, a division of Mitsubishi Chemical America. With 30 years in architectural product sales, he has collaborated with the design build community to find innovative solutions for projects of all sizes. For more information, visit or email [email protected].

Chris Alvares