The unassuming hipped roof of the former headquarters of Tammany Hall on New York City’s Union Square will soon turn to glass and terra cotta and grow to support an unconventional shell-like dome. Unanimously approved by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, the project is designed to be deeply respectful and yield unexpected insight about the building’s hidden social history.
The contemporary dome, inspired by a turtle’s shell, symbolizes Tammany Hall’s inception as a social club that promoted nation-building ideals of the Revolutionary War period. It is inspired by the organization’s very name, which honors Tamanend, chief of the Lenape who was widely revered from the late 17th to early 19th centuries. The turtle represents his clan, symbolizing the Lenape creation myth of a great turtle rising from water to create land. The transformative dome addition has been carefully studied in regards to compositional coherence, and is presented as part of a domed-addition tradition that includes Jefferson’s Monticello and the Devonshire Royal Hospital. When viewed head-on from afar, the dome will appear hemispherical—nearly classical. When viewed obliquely from 17th Street, though, the dome will reveal its symbolic character and mark the original location of Tammany Hall’s front entrance. The lower floors will continue to house retail, while the upper floors of the dome will feature unique commercial office space.
As a firm, BKSK welcomes any opportunity to develop a visual, meaningful dialogue between contemporary and historic architecture. We believe that many structures, Tammany Hall among them, can accommodate change and vertical expansion without a loss of integrity. Rather, this manner of unexpected juxtaposition can heighten the public’s perception of a building’s significance. Our goal is to make the northeast corner of Union Square come alive in a way that it never was, but perhaps always hoped to be.