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Manhattan West's former Brutalist eyesore is now a swank office space

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Peek inside 5 Manhattan West after its glassy retrofit by REX Architects

Photos courtesy Laurian Ghinitoiu

Brookfield’s mini-megaproject across from Related Companies’ Hudson Yards development has been making steady progress over the last few years. The first of six buildings that make up Manhattan West, as Brookfield’s project is known, welcomed its first residents earlier this year. That building, known as The Eugene, stands 62-stories tall and contains 844 apartments.

On Wednesday, Brookfield offered a peek at another completed Manhattan West project, 5 Manhattan West, as part of a press tour. The building was most recently in the news when Amazon signed up for 360,000 square feet of space at this 16-story office tower located on Tenth Avenue, between West 31 and 33rd Streets.

Most New Yorkers will remember this building as somewhat of a former Brutalist eyesore, before all the Hudson Yards towers largely obscured its view. Brookfield brought on REX Architects to re-clad and renovate the building, and bring it into the 21st century, geared specifically toward tech and creative clients looking for large floor plates.

The original Davis Brody-designed building that was completed in 1969.
The 1980s renovation where the facade was painted beige.

Wednesday’s tour was led by John Durschinger, the senior vice president of global design at Brookfield, and by architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, who is the founding principal and president of REX. Prince-Ramus commended the original 1969 Brutalist design of the building by architect Davis Brody calling it an “exemplar” of late Brutalist architecture, but added that the building had been ruined by a renovation in the 1980s. That led to the building being clad in a beige painted-facade that most New Yorkers remember it by.

Prince-Ramus explained that his firm was met with three major challenges before renovation work got underway in 2014: how to deal with the geometry of the building, how to make it energy efficient, and how to retrofit the building while office tenants were still in place.

The original structure was built under the 1968 Building Code of the City of New York. REX however had to contend with the 2008 code, and the former sloping facade presented challenges to the 6.7-foot minimum height requirement for accessible paths of travel (without someone bumping their head). If the facade had been left in place, or if REX had gone with a ziggurat-style facade, the building would have lost a lot of floor space. This is where the pleated facade comes in. It helped the building be up to code, improved the views, and made the building more energy efficient.

A close-up of the pleated glass facade of the building.

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facade argument.ai

Another dreary aspect of the building was the rather boxed-in, and dark lobby. REX opened it up, taking advantage of the massive ceilings heights (up to 17 feet on some floors) of the building. The floor-to-ceiling windows helped make the space more airy as well. The lobby now features travertine walls with artwork, grey terrazzo flooring, and black walnut benches.

The lobby in pre-renovated building.
The REX-designed lobby.

The elevator lobby on the ground floor designed with antiqued panels with an oil rubbed finish.

On Wednesday’s tour, we also got to walk through the future space of the building’s Whole Foods, which is currently blank. The grocery chain will anchor the ground-floor retail space of the building offering up 60,000 square feet of shopping and eating space. The renovation also helped created an open air seating area or “breezeway,” along the entrance to Whole Foods on West 31st Street, which Brookfield hopes will make it more of a welcoming space.

This newly created “breezeway” will provide outdoor seating and access to Whole Foods.

At present, 5 Manhattan West is 99 percent leased and some of its other big tenants (aside from Amazon and Whole Foods) include the advertising firm R/GA Media, and JP Morgan Chase, which will get private access to the building’s rooftop terrace.

Work on the overall Manhattan West complex continues with four other building still under-construction or in the planning stages. A massive, central landscaped garden will eventually connect all six buildings within the eight-acre campus.

The building entrance on West 33rd Street.
A view from under the High Line.