In New York City, architects are more often than not faced with this task: increase owner income by maximizing both size and use. But what happens when the horizontal space allowed by the zoning conditions is almost unusable for human activity? What do we do when the meets and bounds leave us leaps and bounds from practical programming?
An otherwise unusable residual Manhattan lot due to its unique shape and size, 333 Lafayette Street is a daunting challenge from the eyes of both architects and investment property owners. As a result of Broadway intersecting the Manhattan grid, 333 is left with almost no horizontal square footage available for rent. However, efficient planning and clever invention bring 333 Lafayette from undesirable to hugely successful.
At 333 Lafayette in Manhattan, architects and property investors sought to maximize owner revenue by maximizing the allowable rentable square footage in an otherwise unusable lot and increasing vertical advertising space.
The existing commercial building houses a window-service coffee shop and tiny taqueria with even tinier 2nd floor storage and preparation, providing a meager 1,160.6 square feet for generating investor revenue. In Manhattan, though, revenue-generating square footage doesn't only exist in the horizontal plane. Vertical signage and advertising is part of New York City’s identity, and one as architects we cannot shy away from. By circumventing the city’s definition of 'sign', and creating a zero-energy, zero light-pollution, interior banner, businesses can succeed without the restrictions of zoning and the ill effects of traditional 'signage'. The glass housing that permits the advertisement then serves its hidden program: a delicately high-end hidden culinary gem floating behind it. A combination of permitted use and size constraints reveal a plausible solution: sushi. Once the cost of the building and construction is paid off by advertising revenue, the enclosure can serve as a hothouse for vertically grown produce, bringing more life to the volume. At the ground level, giving the building’s sharp corner back to the city grants a more direct access to the Broadway/Lafayette subway. Urbanistically, these feet go miles.
Over time, the grid that holds Manhattanites’ pattern breaks, making way for the unanticipated. Like a hot-sauce toting South American restaurant in a Manhattan loading dock, a Queens roof-top growing fresh crops and honey, or a whiskey distiller in a repurposed Brooklyn pharmaceutical plant, we begin to seek out the unexpected. Information about these sought after destinations are treated like precious heirlooms, traded in a placeless marketplace. They exist everywhere, and are born almost always as a process of elimination: a result of whatever may be left after sifting through the constraints of any given site. 333 Lafayette is no exception, rather, the case study.