Adaptive Reuse: Gramercy Square

If you have to demolish, then only remove what is absolutely essential.” 

Gramercy Square is a renovation and rehabilitation of the former Cabrini Medical Centre. Located in NYC’s historic Gramercy neighbourhood, the project reimagines the site as a residential precinct made up of four buildings connected by green space and common areas.

Founded in 1892 as the Columbus Hospital, the building served the local community until 2008. Maximizing value and quality, the sites’ conversion to residential use saw two of the existing buildings razed and parts of other buildings demolished. The tallest tower, standing at 17 stories, was preserved. Overall, the design saw the adaptive reuse of 400,000 square feet of building.



What was the approach?

There were two big moves in the initial planning of the project.

The first was to selectively demolish only what was essential to make a residential building feasible for this site. That included a three-storey structure on 20th street as well as a section at the rear of the ‘prewar’ building that would allow light and air into the residential units of that building. These area reductions allowed for the establishment of a new ground up building, ‘The Modern’, to be established along E19th Street.

The second was to creatively use areas of the hospital floorplan that were still deeper than typical residential plans, which included areas such as studies, additional bathrooms, and laundry facilities.

Similar to other repositioning projects, we looked to create shared outdoor amenity space, here at the rear yard shared by all four residential buildings. We also reorganized the below grade services to link all buildings by share amenities including pools, gyms, theatres, shared dining rooms and wine cellars.

Unique identities bound community-focussed amenity.”

Why was this approach better than defaulting to demolition?

Selective demolition was required at Gramercy Square in order to convert the existing hospital campus to individual residential buildings linked together by underground amenities and the shared green space.  Demolition was carefully selected to allow light and air into each buildings’ residential floorplate – in most cases this meant simplifying the building outline to leave an efficient residential footprint.   

The area salvaged was able to be reused to convert former Mechanical levels to residential and to create a new ground up building on the northeast corner of the campus.  

“Design for light, air and amenity.”

Lessons learnt/problems solved?

The main takeaway from working on Gramercy Square was the power of connected variation. Working together with the ownership team to understand the minimum requirements of a successful conversion allowed us to target area efficiencies and selective demolition to ensure those requirements were met.  

The resulting introduction of four unique interior design schemes created variation that facilitated the sales team as the campus was completed.  

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). 

We got this project to pencil when no one else could.”