Peerless Pier

Located in one of New York City’s oldest districts, the South Street Seaport has a historic past. On Manhattan’s southern tip—close to skyscrapers and the city’s financial district—this “old port” of New York was built in the 19th Century for mooring tall sailing ships. During this time, the economic growth of New York was driven by the Port of New York’s position as a gateway for international shipping, maritime activities and wholesale fish trade. However, with the advent of steam ships and poor riverbed conditions, the area sank into decline after many decades of successful usage.

Metal transforms a historic NYC pier from dilapidated into dynamic

By Mark Robins

Photo courtesy of Francis Zera

Since the late 1960s, several attempts have been made to recuperate the area including the opening of the large Pier 17 mall in the mid-1980s, which failed to achieve the desired success. New York City-based SHoP Architects was tasked to rehabilitate this once-thriving festival pavilion—which had devolved into a dreary indoor mall—into a thriving cultural, retail and entertainment center via an extensive redevelopment project. This revitalization was part of a plan to balance the pier’s iconic waterfront location with its unique ability to provide a much-needed community anchor for the rapidly growing residential population in Lower Manhattan.

The development plan features the complete transformation of Pier 17, including enhanced and increased open space on the pier as well as the building’s garden roof, and retail space filled with destination stores, restaurants and neighborhood shops. The new design is contemporary, yet draws from the site’s history as a bustling marketplace and renowned maritime port.

Photo courtesy of Francis Zera

Photo courtesy of Francis Zera

Metal was an active component in this restoration, which was named the winner in the Retrofit Metal Walls category.

Aluminum with a Coating

Pier 17’s revitalized façade is 157,375 square feet and encompasses four stories. The design has an open steel structure that allows the interior structure to be exposed for views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Two lower floors are clad in corrugated dark gray metal panels and two upper floors clad in panels of channel glass and tall windows. For this renovation’s metal, New York City-based SHoP Architects wanted the look of mill finished aluminum. Keymark Corp., Fonda, N.Y., supplied the unpainted mill-finished aluminum extrusions.

“When researching materials, SHoP looked for materials that could both be approachable and warm for people while also resistant to abuse, corrosion and frequent maintenance,” says Scot Teti, project director at SHoP Architects. “Metal and its wide range of types, gauges and finishes proved to align best with the design challenge and intent.”

Because Pier 17 is subject to salt spray at its location on the East River—just 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean—the correct coating was requisite. “The coating had to include a long-term warranty covering film integrity, chalk and color fade,” says Scott Moffatt, architectural market manager, industrial coatings at Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries, the coating’s manufacturer. “It required a primer to protect against corrosion on this pier directly on the water. It also had to be solvent free to help the project earn points toward LEED certification for the exterior curtainwall components.” The aluminum was coated with a PPG primer followed by approximately 10,000 pounds of Silver Gray PPG DURANAR powder topcoat.

Photo courtesy of C. Taylor Crothers for The Howard Hughes Corp.

Woburn, Mass.-based RHEINZINK AmericaInc. supplied 68.4 tons of prePATINA blue-grey and prePATINA graphite-grey zinc for the project. The zinc material was fabricated by Glendale, N.Y.-based Long Island Tinsmith Supply Corp. (LITSCO) into façade panels, reveal panels and sinusoidal panels for the exterior. For the interior cladding, zinc-corrugated panels from RHEINZINK were combined with diamond-shaped, snakeskin panels to contrast each other in texture and color. This creates what Joseph Lombardi, project manager at Jobin, calls a “unique earth tone feel.” He says zinc was chosen for its distinctiveness but admits, “It takes a true craftsman to attain the proper installation and the desired look.” The general contractor was Hunter Roberts Construction Group LLC, New York City, and the zinc wall panel installer was The Jobin Organization, Hauppauge, N.Y.

Neil Chrisman, president of Youngtown, Ohio-based Spectrum Metal Finishing Inc., the pier’s finisher, says there was a second application of PPG DURANAR SUNSTORM liquid coatings on 500 interior metal panels visible through two stacked rows of 20-foot light boxes used on the exterior façade. These panels were fabricated and installed by Enclos Corp., Eagan, Minn.

Photo courtesy of C. Taylor Crothers for The Howard Hughes Corp.

Spectrum Metal Finishing developed a unique dot-matrix stencil pattern to diffuse sunlight as it comes through the light boxes. “At night, the dot pattern helps disperse the spray of colors projected onto the building, giving the façade a bright, carnival-like appearance,” Chrisman says. “The company painted the metal panels with PPG DURANAR Silver Gray SUNSTORM MICA (liquid) coatings; then applied the stencil and painted them again in the PPG DURANAR Bone White color.” Once the panels were cured, Spectrum peeled off the stencil to create a dot-pattern effect. “The interior metal panels were developed as a cost-effective alternative to a very expensive glass-frit graphics application.”

From Ruin to Rejuvenation

Awards judge Alan Reed, FAIA, LEED AP, principal at GWWO Architects, Baltimore, was very impressed with the pier. “Ultimately, it was an incredible transition from what the building was. It really caught my eye. It has a sense of focus and place when you look at it. The way the structural steel integrates within that skin was really well done … super-clean detailing.”

Pier 17 has transformed the historic Lower Manhattan neighborhood into a thriving cultural, retail and entertainment center. The historic structure is now seen nationally every night as the waterfront broadcast studios for ESPN, the building’s first major tenant. Surrounded by a vast riverfront esplanade, the building’s rooftop also houses an open-air marketplace and concert venue with panoramic views of many New York landmarks. “The Pier 17 project began with the removal of a true New York City landmark and ended with the delivery of something truly unique that will be admired for generations to come,” Lombardi says.