Cast Iron House: A Minimalist Oasis in Manhattan

In 2010, a developer approached Shigeru Ban Architects (SBA) about creating a residential oasis in the heart of Tribeca. It sounded like an ideal project for the world-renowned firm, but there was a catch: This oasis had to be contained inside a New York City landmark, meaning the design had to preserve the exterior—and its historical significance.

It was an unusual ask for a firm that specializes in innovative from-the-ground-up concepts—such as a house with tent-like curtains as walls or paper-tube structures for refugees—but a welcome one: “As an architect, you have a great reverence for buildings with historical value,” says Dean Maltz, a partner at SBA, “so it was an honor and opportunity.”

The property in question was 67 Franklin Street (previously known as 361 Broadway or the James White Building), which dated to 1882. One of the last “commercial palaces” to be constructed on lower Broadway, the building featured a cast iron front with unique decorative details: Floral patterns wound their way around the rows of columns that punctuated its six stories. In 1982, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted designation, calling the building “one of the handsomest representatives in New York of cast iron architecture, an extraordinary and unique American architectural development.”

SBA approached the renovation of this landmark—now known as the Cast Iron House—as if it were building a ship inside a bottle: “From that point of view,” Maltz describes, “we kept the cast iron as if it’s the bottle and re-made the interior as if it’s the ship.” The restored façade (4,000 pieces were sent to a foundry in Alabama and meticulously re-cast) stands in contrast to the interior, which was reimagined as “an artful interplay between space and light.”

The interior was divided into 11 duplex residences, with holes cut into the floor plates to create double-height ceilings. Vaulted windows add a sense of airiness and fluidity. “One of the reasons [the developer] came to Shigeru Ban was because we do modern architecture in a very minimal way,” Maltz explains. “This type of aesthetic creates a serene-type atmosphere, which worked well into this notion of creating an oasis in Tribeca.”

Residence 6-7A, a five-bedroom four-bath corner duplex, feels like such a retreat: The light-filled living space, with a 25-foot ceiling, oversized windows and views of the urban landscape, opens to a kitchen with custom matte-white cabinetry, Calacatta Lincoln countertops, Gaggenau appliances and Dornbracht fixtures. “Creating a transparency and an openness from the exterior to the interior is typical to the architecture that Shigeru Ban does,” Maltz says.

This interplay can also be found in the building’s entrance, where 19-foot tall windows lead into a bright-white lobby facing an interior courtyard planted with leafy bamboo. “From the moment you are entering the interior from the exterior,” Maltz says, “you get this sense of serenity and nature.” To further reinforce a feeling of calm, SBA integrated an array of amenities into the building—a fitness center, dance studio, hydrotherapy spa, sauna, steam room, resident’s lounge and children’s playroom.

But perhaps the most remarkable change was the addition of two glass-and-steel penthouses and the insertion of a floor at the building’s lower level, which increased the number of floors from six to nine. Suspended by a cantilevered truss, with telescoping walls, the minimalist penthouses appear to hover above the ornate cast iron building.

“I wanted to articulate [the addition] as totally different from the existing building,” the Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban explained on his website. Even so, Cast Iron House maintains a careful harmony between the modern addition and its historical foundation. “We’re very proud of this job,” Maltz says. “This has been a particularly great opportunity to work in a landmark structure and do iconic architecture.”

Residence 6-7A at 67 Franklin Street is represented by Todd Vitolo and Susanne Columbia.

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