Formerly known as the printing district, New York City’s Hudson Square neighborhood has undergone a complete change in the last decade. S9 Architecture’s 111 Varick, a 27-story residential tower developed by Madigan Development, is part of the changing face of the former manufacturing and commercial neighborhood. The development, which topped out in June 2019, brings 25 affordable and 75 market-rate units to the area. It’s set to welcome residents this fall and expects to reach full occupancy by October.
Multi-Housing News reached out to S9 Architecture to find out more about the challenges behind designing a residential tower in a dense, urban environment such as Manhattan. John Clifford, co-founder & principal of S9 Architecture, talks about how 111 Varick fits in and stands out in the neighborhood.
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What is the concept behind the design of 111 Varick?
Clifford: The design intent was to create a certain uniqueness generated from the context—but not an “alien” aesthetic presence—so the building facade is in line with the evolution of the urban fabric. At the same time, the site is located in SoHo, one of the very fashionable and trendy parts of the city, so we wanted to create coolness. Interpreting the existing context within the limitations of typical design constraints for a residential project in New York City was important.
What elements set it apart from other projects in the area?
Clifford: The facade’s undulating texture, created by pushing in and pulling out the intersections of a loft-style grid—which is the dominant detail of northern SoHo—is a modified contextual texture that also represents the dynamics of the street. This idea bridges the history of the neighborhood with modern and stylish SoHo. Dark precast concrete was chosen as the material to represent the heaviness of the context and the chic image of SoHo. The dynamic nature of the facade not only provides a beautiful, static composition but it also adds a dimensional aspect to the grid while capturing the interplay of sunlight and shadows.
How does the building’s design resonate with the neighborhood’s industrial heritage?
Clifford: We started by recreating the grid of the neighborhood and then generating a certain modern texture out of it. We also sought stepped massing that evokes the classic setbacks found on New York City’s early skyscrapers. The building facade stylishly reinterprets the industrial aesthetic of the neighborhood.
The building is pursuing LEED Silver certification. How is sustainability integrated into the design of 111 Varick?
Clifford: The sustainability program for 111 Varick works at a whole-building level and for the individual residences, employing both active and passive systems. Using a combination of low-emission, conscientiously sourced construction materials, enhanced HVAC and air filtration systems, and strategic passive solar design strategies, we have reduced the heat island effect and provided superior indoor air quality. Throughout the building’s public areas, we are using energy-efficient lighting that automatically dims when the space is unoccupied. The landscaping design was developed to minimize the need for irrigation and capture stormwater runoff.
While the project has great public transportation access, we have incorporated some personal transportation features like electric vehicle charging stations to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Apartments have smart thermostats that can be programmed to optimize the energy used for comfortable heating and cooling. Careful fenestration design gives residents great views and daylight while also reduces reliance on electricity for lighting. Bath and kitchen fittings and fixtures are low-flow, water-saving models.
What are some unique amenities at 111 Varick?
Clifford: Rooftop outdoor amenities and a landscaped terrace with barbecue provide lovely, unobstructed views toward downtown. 111 Varick also has an exercise room, meditation room, conference room, social lounge, club room with pool table, and kids’ playroom. These amenities were designed for young professionals, who we expect to be the major tenant group in this building.
What does the project mean for S9 Architecture, considering the company’s previous work?
Clifford: S9 has completed several projects located in New York City, and there is a certain guide we use as we approach the design—we always start by looking at the history and context of the neighborhood and reinterpreting the design in a modern way that is unique to each project. This allows us to help evolve the urban fabric—we’re not simply repeating history nor are we creating an object that is out of context for its neighborhood. This approach applies to every project including 205 Water St., 160 E. 22nd St., 606 Broadway, and so on. Our approach to 111 Varick is not different. We started by looking at the strong loft-style grid of northern SoHo and transformed it to represent the fashionable character of modern SoHo at the same time.
The specific location of the site also made this project quite significant for us. Unlike most sites in Manhattan, this one has an open park in front, meaning the front facade can be completely visible. This is a very rare situation in Manhattan, where most of the buildings can be seen from a side angle on the street. The other interesting aspect of the project is the recent developments around the site. Many buildings were being constructed around the Freeman Plaza at the same time, including Renzo Piano’s latest project in the city, so how to propose S9’s concept about reinterpreted contextualism was another challenge and opportunity for us.