Metal construction products are seldom mentioned in the same sentence as New York City, but perhaps the successful restoration of an historic Manhattan building will change that. On the Corbin Building restoration, which was undertaken as part of a larger municipal project, metal from Englert Inc. of Perth Amboy, NJ was fashioned into terra-cotta-style tiles to top a pair of towers that were original to the Corbin Building’s design but had been removed many years ago.
The Corbin Building is a former office building located at 192 Broadway. It was designed by architect Francis H. Kimball and built in 1888. It was named for Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Rail Road. When it was built, the slender nine-story structure “towered” over its neighbors and was tall enough to be called a "skyscraper." Its rugged masonry facade hangs on an iron frame with an elaborate terra-cotta polychromy exterior. The skin is brick and stone and its interior vaulted ceilings employ a Guastavino tile system. It was reported to be the tallest commercial building in New York City at the time of its completion.
The building has recently been rehabilitated by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the downtown Manhattan Fulton Center transportation center project. The ground and basement levels of the building are being assimilated into the Transit Center and serve as an entrance to the subway station below. The exterior and interior of the building is being restored to its original 19th century construction as closely as possible. After a lot of prodding from preservationists, the Transit Authority has boldly erected a modern glass-and-steel transportation center to pair with the architecturally spectacular Corbin Building.
The job of restoring the 122-yeare-old landmark has involved more than five years of research, planning and design between the MTA, the NY State Historic Preservation Office and the Federal Transportation Administration, with the ultimate goal of restoring it as best as possible to its original grandeur, and making it a functional addition to the new Transit Center.
It is home to architectural details that simply do not, or could not, exist today. In fact, its intricate red terra cotta facade, bronze-plated cast-iron and mahogany spiral staircase, marble wainscoting, and other fine designs make the slender tower one of unrivaled quality for any era. Nearly 400 terra cotta panels adorn the building. The building has also gotten a new roof, new windows and a storefront restored to look just like it did in 1917. Twin towers of terra cotta tile removed many years ago have been rebuilt. Preservation Architect Page Cowley and a team of restoration engineers extensively researched original design drawings, century-old photographs, and building materials to accurately recreate its beauty including the twin terra cotta-colored towers. But this time the tile towers have been built with a superior, extremely durable metal coil and sheet provided by Englert, Inc. of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
B&B Sheet Metal is one of handful of roofing experts in New York City who could have done the restoration of the roof and the towers. For more than 100 years, the company has been a leading restoration resource for designers, architects, builders and home owners in the New York metropolitan area. Located in Long Island City, B & B provides comprehensive restoration, custom fabrication and precise replication for sheet metal projects. Its Long Island City headquarters has 30,000 square feet of production space where a staff of more than 40 artisans and technicians—trained in both traditional and contemporary metalwork methods—turn out unique roofing and gutter accessories.
Their assignment for the Corbin Building? Craft 10,000 square feet of the Englert coil and sheet to simulate the terra cotta roofs atop the two pyramidal roof towers that had been removed years ago from the building. Each component of the metal roof had to be hand crafted to replicate the old tile towers and be consistent with the style of the 400 terra cotta panels on the building.
The B&B team was led by Design Director Jonathan Rincon and Technical Designer Sherzod Diyakhanov . “The client had strong requirements in choosing the metal shingles that would top the towers,” explains Sherzod. “They wanted the best price, the best design, the best functionality and the least maintenance for the product. At one point we changed the original design of the plans to accommodate all of the requirements. “We got it down to TCS terne-coated steel and Kynar-coated terra cotta metal,” says Sherzod, “and for a number of issues including availability at the time, selected the Kynar coated product.”
“Recyclability was also an issue in the client’s quest to meet LEED project certification,” notes Jonathan. Kynar-coated panels met those requirements more easily than real terra cotta tiles,” he explains. The towers presented some interesting challenges. An apex at the corner at the ridge cap of each tower was redesigned to better fit the tapered shingles and still meet the look of the original plans.
The design also called for a new addition—clear plastic snow guards on the towers’ shingles that would be indistinguishable from street level by blending with the terra cotta color of the towers. The designers avoided penetrating the metal shingles by choosing an adhesive that could meet strong wind resistance requirements mandated by the client. The project also features eight-foot high flush wall panels made of 20 ounce copper wrapped around each of the terra cotta towers.
The team, including a second technical designer, John Dogt, also designed a 200-foot long system of 32-ounce copper gutter complicated by 90-degree angles and one side of the roof that was pitched lower than the other, creating two different slopes. The team’s solution to compensate for the pitch was to taper sections of the gutter rather than change pitch to stabilize the rainwater flow. This tapering was masked by a copper fascia affixed to the outside face of the gutters which Rincon, Diyakhanov and Dogt were able to achieve using a series of originally designed twisted brackets, one holding the fascia to the gutter horizontally and the other diagonally. B&B also manufactured the design for a copper ball ornamentation that appeared on the original 1919 gutter and which could be soldered to the face of the gutter to meet stringent requirements for wind resistance.
Today, the $1.4 billion transit center has vastly improved the Lower Manhattan transit experience for over 300,000 daily customers. Both Downtown Manhattan transit street access and station navigation have been vastly improved, and the upgrades include better circulation and reduced overcrowding for the train platform as well as a new underground concourse that connects several subway lines with the New Jersey PATH train hub and the World Financial Center. The transit center also feature 25,000 square feet of new retail.
The black-and-white photo shows the project before restoration.
For more images of this project, click here.