The F.N. Burt box factory, once a local landmark which is listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, was an abandoned historic building. It is now a mixed-use live/work/play development utilizing a VELUX Venting Modular Skylights (VMS) system for both natural light and passive ventilation.
Located in Buffalo’s emerging Hydraulics District and housed in the renovated factory, 500 Seneca is a community asset combining 106 living units, 180,000 square feet of commercial office space on five floors, retail components, a unique cultural space and a large multi-story interior green atrium area as well as a rooftop garden.
Comments from Samuel Savarino
“There were many features of the Velux skylights that appealed to the project team: the flexibility of sizing, ease of installation and the look of the units,” Samuel Savarino, president and CEO of Savarino Companies, says. “The fidelity to the project schedule was an important component. Velux met every criterion.”
The flexibility of the product to fit into existing conditions was key as was the added functionality of having operable units.
“The aesthetics were important too. The units resemble old daylight factory skylights. Velux came into the project during construction to provide us with a design and a product to fit the unique circumstances of the existing historic structure. Velux personnel took the initiative and the time to understand the specific needs of the project and they provided us with a product we can all be proud of.”
In commenting on the success of the building in attracting commercial and residential tenants, Savarino says that the occupancy of the building has exceeded his expectations. “The public space in the atrium of the building, created by the Velux skylights, has been cited by our tenants as a unique and desired feature of 500 Seneca.”
Comments from CJS Architects
500 Seneca is the site of the former F.N. Burt Co. factory; a symbol to Buffalo’s supremacy as a prominent industrial city at the height of the Machine age. The Burt Plant was a respected business and the largest manufacturer of paper boxes in the world during the early 20th century. The company experienced growth during this time, including the 330,000 square foot factory complex; a series of connected structures built in phases between 1900 and 1926. The original factory building was constructed at the corner of Seneca and Hamburg Streets in 1901; with eight subsequent additions. This chronology of the buildings expresses the evolution of the mill-type manufacturing facility into the modern concrete daylight factory.
The building is part of the National Register of Historic Places; the official list of our Nation’s historic and most worthy buildings to be protected and preserved. The team’s appreciation for historic architecture led us toward this opportunity to renovate, rehabilitate, and restore this structure with utmost accuracy and sensitivity. Work began with comprehensive research to evaluate the original design and current conditions, followed by further planning and design to ensure the building will be preserved and celebrated well into the future. We advanced through the preservation process carefully to ensure the existing structure is honored and protected, while also maintaining its structural integrity and its contextual value on the surrounding environment. As such, CJS Architects gained all of the necessary approvals from NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, & Historic Preservation.
The adaptive reuse of this mixed-use historic building carried several challenges to which were sensitively responded. The intention was to preserve this piece of history, while simultaneously providing modern building standards and amenities.
The most anticipated space to be completed in the building was the (former) exterior courtyard on the 3rd Floor, which over time became fully-enclosed and used as a 3-story interior atrium. Although surrounded on three sides by large daylight factory windows, there was minimal access to natural light, as these windows faced only adjacent interior spaces. Therefore, this atrium was initially dark and uninviting. The goal was to energize this 5,756 square foot atrium and create an active communal space.
Nonetheless, a major solution for success was to provide an abundance of natural light. Approximately 3,314 square feet of new openings were cut out of the existing 5-Bay precast concrete roof deck to accommodate the integration of five large Velux Modular Skylight units – three skylights approximately 48-feet long – each inclusive of 28 modular glazing units, and two skylights approximately 36-feet long – each inclusive of 22 modular glazing units. High efficiency glazing was utilized to accommodate New York State’s temperature extremes.
The result for the space was overwhelming, to say the least. This Atrium now provides a healthy synergy between the building tenants, residential tenants and many community members who take advantage of this newly activated space.
We chose the Velux VMS skylight system because of its minimalistic design characteristics. It offered features which were capable of complementing the existing building’s characteristics.
A highlight to the design is the integration of working components. For example, there are several fully automated venting skylights in the system; however without having prior knowledge of where they are located, you would never be able to identify their current locations.
Velux made the entire process a breeze. From design through construction, their staff had all of the answers and appropriate recommendations to ease everyone else’s job.
The fully fabricated modular elements were advantages in obtaining quality, with prompt, organized service and installation. I was amazed with the ease of which Velux completed the installation; especially during inclement weather.
VELUX Products Utilized
A mixture of 128 fixed and venting skylight modules cover the atrium ceiling providing daylight and ventilation to those below. Eight-foot tall skylight modules line the center Ridgelights. The nearly 3.5 foot wide modules allow for quick coverage of such large roof openings. With glass insulated units nearly 1.5 inches thick, VELUX could achieve a .24 solar heat gain coefficient and help make the space below energy efficient. Coupled with a number of venting skylight modules that can be integrated into the building’s HVAC for automatic climate control and rain/heavy wind sensor override functionality, the VELUX Ridgelights help achieve an accelerated ROI by reducing overall building HVAC loads.
About The VMS System
The VELUX line of modular commercial skylights marks a shift in the evolution of traditional commercial skylights in this country. Designed in cooperation with architects from London-based Foster+Partners, ventilation and sunscreening components are integrated within the skylight design. This prefabricated skylight concept offers the same benefits to commercial buildings that VELUX residential skylights offer to homeowners.
Ross Vandermark, national product manager for VELUX America, says that the company has partnered with Foster+Partners in the installation of various models of the skylights in a number of locations. “Nearly 400 of the units were specified for the new international airport in Panama City, Panama, and another installation has been completed at Cornell University, the home of the first four-year architectural school in this country,” he says.
According to Mike Rhoden, commercial sales representative with VELUX, the skylight system is unique to VELUX and to the skylight world where commercial daylighting is concerned. “There is no structural framing between the skylights,” he says. “Where typically with commercial skylights the opening is filled with a costly metal framework and then individual sections of glass are wet-glazed into place. The overall process can be quite time-consuming and heavily reliant upon little human error as well as ideal weather conditions to apply the sealants. The VMS modular skylight system is a complete unitized system that is fitted over the opening on a site-built curb.” Rhoden says that the system offers installation speed with a pre-designed, pre-engineered system with no value engineering necessary in the field. “There is no caulking, no putty, no welding, no boring, no soldering required – it’s a complete package solution, and all dealers have access to the product now.”
The skylights are available in fixed and venting configurations and shades are custom-built for each unit. Custom sizing, colors and glazings are also available and VELUX pre-installs everything in a quality-controlled manufacturing environment where all electronics are bench-tested before leaving the factory.
Commenting on energy efficiency considerations, Vandermark points out that the VELUX-supplied control system allows for integration of the shades and skylight window motors into a building energy management system. “This not only provides daylight and fresh air, but also enables automated climate control to help offset HVAC energy loads.”
“Foster+Partners was instrumental in not only choosing materials for the product but in the design and in making sure that aesthetically we took commercial skylights to a different level,” Rhoden says. Read additional details.
The Past is the Future
During the February 2016 opening celebration, state and local politicians joined the building’s developers and new owners to celebrate the grand opening that, according to The Buffalo News, “just over a year ago had pigeons and bats flying through parts of the building, puddles of water, and deteriorating floors that had to be stabilized.”
The feeling at the event was captured in the comment by State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo. with his observation that, “What was Buffalo’s past is now becoming its future.”