Manhattan, NY When it opened in November 1931, The New York Times described the Starrett-Lehigh Building as “the largest of its kind in the country” and with good reason. The 19-story structure, occupying an entire square block bounded by 11th and 12th Aves. and West 26th and 27th Sts., loomed on the western edge of the borough.
But it wasn’t only its size that made the Starrett-Lehigh Building so dramatic, it was the continuous horizontal windows, which curve at the inside and outside corners of the building. As The New York Times noted, “...the exterior walls of the building feature setback, supporting columns that permit running bands of glass, instead of conventional windows, giving increased light and an unconventional exterior appearance.” The Starrett-Lehigh Building was designated an Individual Landmark on October 7, 1986.
Acquired by RXR Realty in 2011, the 2.3 million s/f structure, which sits adjacent to the Hudson Yards site in the West Chelsea Historic District, is making news again - completing one of the largest window replacement programs in the city’s history. BGA was brought on board to lead the architectural investigation of this massive project, which entails replacing the continuous “ribbon style” windows with energy-efficient aluminum-framed units.
A feature of the original window design was the operable vent window, which has an alternating vertical placement from window to window, yielding a “bouncing ball” effect across each floor and façade. The phased installation work was preceded by several years of planning and preparation by the RXR and BGA teams.
BGA was tapped to define the parameters of the project; review the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission guidelines for replacement windows; evaluate manufacturers, materials and performance requirements for these historic windows; and survey the existing conditions, including vents and louvers. BGA assisted with the manufacturer selection process based on matching the distinctive operable vent design of the original steel windows to ensure that all work complied with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission’s guidelines.
BGA’s senior project manager Michael Ankuda, AIA, with 35 years of experience across a wide spectrum of projects, led the project. He researched several window manufacturers to see if they could match the existing steel window profiles and sight lines with aluminum, thermally-broken frames incorporating insulated glass. RXR Realty selected Graham Architectural Products of York, PA for the assignment.
The next step in the process was obtaining the approval of Community Board 4 and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) with the help of the consultants Higgins Quasebarth & Partners. At the LPC hearings, New York City’s Historic Districts had already referred to the project as “the window job of the year, if not the century,” adding, “if any windows deserve an above-and-beyond restoration or specially made replacements, it is these.”
Achieving slender muntins, while supporting the operable vent and the increased weight of the insulated glass, was a design and technical challenge. The LPC commissioners rejected the original Graham 6700 series window submission due to inconsistent muntin sizes and the heavy framing supporting the operable window vent.
Graham seized on the opportunity to customize their product line to satisfy the LPC feedback. They unveiled a re-engineered window, the breakthrough Graham SR6700 series. This newly designed window with the sightlines and floating operable vent, which alternates vertically around the building, are the signature of this window-centric building. And in 2014 the commissioners of the LPC approved the windows for this project.
The replacement of the windows enhances the value and the tenant experience at the Starrett-Lehigh Building. The new, energy-efficient windows, which are part of an overall property upgrade, maintain its iconic exterior, while significantly reducing heating and cooling costs. They also improve the comfort and acoustics in the tenant spaces. To minimize disruption to the building’s high-visibility tenants, including Johnson & Johnson, Martha Stewart Living and Polo Ralph Lauren, windows were replaced at night over the course of two years.
BGA values our longstanding relationship with RXR Realty and are proud of our work on this historic window replacement project. We are privileged to collaborate with the RXR Realty team of professionals for this ambitious and worthwhile undertaking.