Adaptive Reuse: 49 Chambers Street

“The character of a building is as much a material as brick or marble.”

Nestled among the best of lower Manhattan, 49 Chambers Street is an irreplaceable piece of New York City – then, now and into the future.

Built in 1912, the landmarked Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank building was the first building to use a “H” shape plan to introduce light and air deeper into the floorplates. Standing strong since horse-drawn carts helped deliver coal, the address’s new chapter as luxury residences pays homage to history while looking forward to an amenity-rich future that adds vibrancy and vitality to the surrounding 24/7 neighbourhood.


“We set out to highlight the existing structure efficiently and elegantly.”

What was the approach?

The original landmark structure is an amazing, and iconic, building opportunity. In light of this, our approach was driven by three clear aims – resulting in a trio of accompanying methodologies:

  1. To highlight the existing structure. Approached with meticulous care and attention, the team prioritised bringing the lustre back to the buildings’ exquisite marble, classic brass, and stained-glass elements. On the external façade, the lot line windows that needed to be inserted for the residential offering frame the heritage signage.
  2. To create the most efficient residential floor plate within the landmarked envelope. This was achieved through practical reclamation of space and tactical programming. Space taken up by unnecessary elevators was reclaimed to units, and the inevitably dark corners of the deep floorplan were transformed into low-dwell areas like laundries, storage and ensuites.
  3. To create building amenities where possible. By increasing efficiency and condensing the footprint of building systems at the roof and below grade levels, the team created more space. As a result, 49 Chambers has a public event space, rooftop deck and garden, and swimming pool (once a cellar).

Why was this approach better than defaulting to demolition?

In the case of 49 Chambers, the façade and banking hall are both landmarked by the city of New York, so demolition wasn’t an option.

This caveat meant that the design team was required to be creative within the deep building footprint. By layering in programs that do not require direct access to operable windows such as studies, additional bathrooms, and laundry rooms beyond the 30’ line in which kitchens are limited, they were able to find innovative solutions to a challenging floorplate.

Because the building previously served as a commercial office, the proposal to convert it to residential included a reduction of the overall elevator count in line with reduced overall occupancy. This allowed our team to selectively reorganize the interior – removing elevators and infilling those spaces with kitchens and additional storage which ultimately increased the efficiency of the plan.

Existing plan vs Proposed plan.

Lessons learnt/problems solved?

There are two main takeaways from the adaptive reuse of 49 Chambers Street:

  1. No assumptions can be made. The existing, landmarked, building as built in 1910 required surveys of each floor. The amount of deviation meant that there could be no assumption of replication between floors as might be the case with a newer building. An important understanding for any repositioning project is knowing the benefits and constraints of the optional use of prior codes, as well as what thresholds require compliance with current building codes. When balancing area changes with forecasted costs, it’s critical to understand what design proposals may change the way the building is filed.
  2. Working with landmark status requires patience and strategy. For 49 Chambers specifically, the façade and ground level interiors both held landmark status. This meant that there lengthy approval processes required for many design decisions including window replacements or the introduction of new windows and interior finishes at the ground level retail space. It is incredibly important for the entire project team to budget for the approvals process, including rounds of discussion and revision, when working on a landmarked building project.

“Creativity was required within the buildings’ deep footprint.”

Existing plan.

Proposed plan.

Working with a landmark is a privilege that must be taken on a case-by-case basis.”

What needs to change in your city for adaptive reuse to stay?

In New York, regulations and laws limit the repositioning of most office buildings built between 1960 and 1980Updating those regulations and laws to allow for more flexible conversion of office buildings would provide ~120 million square feet of non-residential space that would be available for conversion (per NYC planning Office Adaptive Reuse Task Force).

“Building repositioning unlocks value.”