Adaptive Reuse of Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building Renews the Structure’s Rightful Prominence in the Harbor and City

Finally, in 2018, with developers Midtown Equities and Centaur Properties, as well as operator Cipriani, onboard, Marvel restarted work. Relying on proven expertise in preservation and adaptive reuse, the firm assembled a team of architects and established a site office. Working onsite enabled the team to understand the existing structure’s history and quirks and facilitated an expedited construction schedule.

The Great Hall’s centerpiece is its 130-foot-long by 16-foot-wide historic glass laylight. Only the gridded steel frame remained as the project began. The steel was straightened and reinforced and the decorative laylight pattern recreated from photographs.

“From day one, the team fell in love with the BMB and was committed to realizing its potential,” says Tim Fryatt, AIA, Marvel director and lead project architect. “It seemed unfathomable that an ornate metal structure situated over water could survive more than a century of waves, winds and underuse. Revered as the maritime equivalent of Grand Central Station, the BMB’s design as a grand civic ferry terminal demanded a complex approach for preservation and retrofit to adapt to new and modern uses, as well as facilitation of a viable economic engine to ensure its long-term protection. Marvel was honored to reanimate this exquisite and storied landmark, helping to transition New York’s historic waterfront into a resilient and sustainable ribbon for recreation and hospitality.”

Through a careful process and sustaining effort to this civic asset, Marvel crafted an elegantly modern and historically sensitive redevelopment. Working closely with the owner/developers and owner/operators, the team orchestrated efforts to reimagine and safeguard BMB’s historic lineage.

A central challenge was adapting the building to myriad new uses. The ground floor continues to provide ferry access to Governors Island via slips 6 and 7, and SeaStreak Ferry serves Atlantic Highlands, N.J., in slip 5. The ground floor also contains a porte cochere-covered driveway and two gracious new lobbies with a ceremonial stair. The grand civic second-floor spaces are fully restored as an events venue, which centers around the dramatic 9,000-square-foot Great Hall. The second-floor mezzanine features a fitness center characterized by its industrial beams and rivets. The third and fourth floors were completely redesigned and built to accommodate a 47-room boutique hotel and spa. Finally, a modern glass addition on the fifth floor houses a jazz club, expansive lounge, two restaurants and outdoor terrace with sweeping views of New York Harbor.

Creative Solutions

Renewing the deteriorating 1909 Ferry building for modern use presented many conflicts. Challenges included navigating unique historic existing conditions, carefully threading new infrastructure through the historic building, finding inventive strategies to meet modern code and safety standards, and satisfying complex new program and operational requirements. Marvel referred throughout to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with methods varying for different elements spanning preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction.

The Battery Maritime Building’s distinctive Beaux Arts expressionism is evident on the north façade with its riveted, stamped and cast-metal ornamentation, all gloriously restored.

The application of strategies varied in scale from holistic design approaches to creative technical detailing. For example, special fire-protection studies and a robust new sprinkler system allowed the city to approve the design without concealing the historic structural steel work with modern fireproofing. Other examples include the needling of new elevator and stair cores between working ferry slips to provide a safe means of access and egress, the creation of double walls and slabs to help satisfy thermal and acoustic isolation demands, and creative utility pathways avoiding alteration of the historic envelope and permitting the potential for reversibility.

The Great Hall contains many specific examples of creative solutions in historic preservation by Marvel. The room was in severe disrepair with limited fragments of historic fabric and very few original drawings. The Marvel team used surviving millwork and plaster fragments as templates for new profiles, stitching the room back together. The centerpiece of the Great Hall is its 130-foot-long by 16-foot- wide historic glass laylight, which was completely lost to time with only the gridded steel frame remaining. The steel was straightened and reinforced and the decorative laylight pattern recreated from photographs. A series of new glass prototype pieces was manufactured and tested in place to ensure quality, historic accuracy and modern code compliance. The reconstructed enormous laylight is true to the building’s original feature, which allows diffused natural light to filter down into the ferry waiting hall.

A central example of Marvel’s holistic approach to historic preservation and adaptive reuse is the thoughtful addition of one story on top of the existing structure. The original south façade included cupolas, spires and pergolas, which created a striking skyline profile from the water while providing shaded space to enjoy prime vistas and sea air. In time, the cupolas and pergolas were lost, and skyscrapers grew behind it, obscuring and diminishing BMB’s presence. Marvel’s vision was not only to restore and celebrate the building’s historic features, but also to re-establish BMB’s relationship to the harbor and city, renewing the structure’s rightful prominence. The cupolas and pergolas were reconstructed and then silhouetted against the modern glass curtainwall of a fifth-floor addition, which reflects the sky. This simple bold gesture recreates the lost historic skyline and establishes a strong horizontal form aligning with the harbor and contrasting against the predominantly vertical modern skyline. The design enhances the presence of BMB and proudly announces a revitalized waterfront.

AFTER PHOTOS: David Sundberg, Esto

Retrofit Team

Architect of Record: Marvel

  • Jonathan J. Marvel, FAIA, ASLA Affiliate, founding principal
  • Tim Fryatt, AIA, director, project lead
  • Jen Olson, AIA, director
  • Anne Bannon, AIA, project architect
  • Andrew Brown, AIA, project architect
  • Makenzie Leukart
  • Eugene Murphy
  • Claudia Castillo de la Cruz
  • Miguel Gutierrez
  • Thomas Garland

Designer: The Office of Thierry W Despont Ltd.

Structural Engineer: Silman

Noted architects Walker & Morris were tasked with creating the Municipal Ferry Terminal, as BMB was known then, after the city’s establishment of the Municipal Ferry system in 1905.

MEP/FP/FA Engineer: EP Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineer: Langan

Historic Preservation: Higgins Quasebarth & Partners LLC

Marine Engineer: Halcrow HPA Engineers P.C., now Jacobs

Envelope Consultant: Frank Seta & Associates LLC

Construction Manager: Veracity Partners LLC

General Contractor: MJM Associates Construction LLC

Lighting Designer: Schwinghammer Lighting LLC


Metal Panels and Glass Curtainwall: Thomas Manufacturing

EIFS: Sto Corp.

Moisture Barrier: Carlisle Coatings & Waterproofing

Elastomeric Roofing: Soprema

Wood-frame Windows and Wood Doors: ArchMills Doors & Hardware

Glazing: Guardian Glass

Skylights, Historic Laylight: Galaxy Glass & Stone

Revolving Doors: ASSA ABLOY Entrance Systems

Locksets: Omnia Industries

Door Closers: LCN by Allegion

Exit Devices: Von Duprin by Allegion

Pulls: Focal Point

Acoustical and Suspension Grid Ceilings: Armstrong Ceiling & Wall Solutions

Paints: Benjamin Moore

Carpet: Brintons Americas

Decorative Lighting: Madson Black

Elevators: Precision Elevator

About the Author

Meredith Morton
Meredith Morton writes about architecture and design from her home office in Chicago.

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