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First look at Disney’s SOM-designed Hudson Square HQ

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The massive media conglomerate will partner with SOM on a 1.2 million-square-foot headquarters in lower Manhattan

© SOM | bloomimages

Since the 2013 rezoning that created Hudson Square—an area roughly bordered by West Houston, Greenwich, Varick, and Canal streets, as well as part of Sixth Avenue—the neighborhood has seen new developments, many of which are residential, rise at a rapid clip.

And now, one of the biggest new buildings in the area—the Walt Disney Company’s new headquarters, taking over the site of what was once City Winery—is getting ready to rise. Disney, Silverstein Properties (which is developing the building), and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill have unveiled the first batch of renderings for the media conglomerate’s new HQ, known as 4 Hudson Square. The 1.2 million-square-foot building will occupy the entire block bordered by Varick, Hudson, Vandam, and Spring streets, with ground floor retail and new sidewalk pavings included as part of the package.

But don’t expect a glassy high-rise; instead, SOM is looking to the past, and the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood, for inspiration. The facade will be covered in soft green terra cotta tiles, with anodized aluminum panels adding accents throughout. The structure will top out around 320 feet, with two smaller towers rising from a 10-story base (for a total height of 22 stories, including mechanicals).

According to Colin Koop, a design partner at SOM who’s leading the project, the desire to blend in with the surrounding architecture was very much intentional. “This notion of being a good neighbor” was top of mind for executives at Disney, who Koop says chose the area not just because of its available land, but because “it was a neighborhood, it had an integrity to it, and wanting a building that felt like it was a modern, contemporary building but that somehow resonated with that context.” The large printing presses that make up much of Hudson Square provided inspiration, and Koop says the project will be “as monolithic and historic as possible” in keeping with the style of those buildings.

The headquarters itself will house between 4,000 and 5,000 employees of Disney and its various affiliates, including ABC7 and shows like Live with Kelly and Ryan. On the ground floor, the firms expect to build out a “singular retail experience” similar to Chelsea Market, according to Koop, with the goal of providing an amenity for both the workers in the building and neighborhood residents. (That space would also provide a queueing spot for live shows that will tape in the building’s basement studios.)

In 2018, Disney inked a deal with Trinity Church Real Estate to take over the lease on the property for 99 years; discussions on what could rise on the site began soon after. According to Koop, Disney execs had a few dealbreakers—a building that was contextual, but also one that would be sustainable in the long term. The company is aiming for both LEED and WELL certification, and things like stormwater management will be incorporated into the final design.

SOM’s long history of working on corporate buildings informed its approach to this project, but Koop says that the two firms were also interested in creating a more modern headquarters, similar to those sought by tech firms putting down roots in the city (see: Google’s expansion throughout Chelsea). “What’s interesting here is [we’re building] one of those that has those same bones, those big floor plates, the lower-slung building that’s more about horizontal cones, [which] allows people to see each other face to face—that’s the principle,” Koop says.

Demolition on the site’s existing buildings has already begun, and the firms expect that the new Disney HQ will take about four years to complete.