Almost Home: NYC’s New Irish Arts Center
Over 33 million Americans—10% of the population—claim Irish heritage, according to the 2017 US Census. Irish Arts Center in New York City has long recognized and represented this deep connection between the US and the Emerald Isle, showcasing Irish artists and performers from their New York City space since 1972.
As Irish Arts Center explored the idea of building a state-of-the-art platform for Irish culture in America, it became clear that the new building design would need to be adaptable and entrepreneurial, serving a multidisciplinary mission across a range of art forms.
“We had an opportunity to create a home for many different kinds of artists,” says Aidan Connolly, executive director of Irish Arts center. “We wanted to show what Ireland and Irish America are bringing to the cultural table and how we’re engaging with other cultures to tell a broader story about our shared humanity”.
As part of the City’s urban renewal plan for the far west side, Cybert Tire, IAC’s neighbor to the west, would be relocated to a brand new home, and Irish Arts Center would have the opportunity to relocate to the larger site next door. Part of the plan was to incorporate the existing façade of Cybert Tire—which happened to be built in 1916, the year of Irish independence—into the new Irish Arts Center building.
The program for the new building included two venues to serve IAC’s multidisciplinary mission, two classrooms to serve its education programs, and ground-floor social space for community engagement and Irish hospitality. However, as design progressed, it became clear that the site was too tight to achieve all this, so a plan emerged to combine the new and old IAC buildings into one contiguous new building.
“As the project evolved, we realized it would be difficult to put two venues on the one site without creating a building that was out of context in the neighborhood, and too complex internally,” says Connolly. “By restoring our existing facility and its historic, beloved intimate venue, we could relieve those pressures, and construct a state-of-the-art building on the new site, in a wonderful blend of the old and the new.”
Another benefit of splitting the facility across two sites was IAC could remain in operation throughout construction. As architects from Ireland’s Office of Public Works worked with local architect of record, Davis Brody Bond, on the design, Pavarini McGovern stepped in to get the work started.
SMALL SPACE, BIG VISION
Such a unique and ambitious plan came with some challenges:
Preservation. To remain true to the neighborhood context and honor the 11th Avenue building’s past life, the design called for reintegrating some of the original brick façade into the new building. Pavarini McGovern installed temporary bracing towers during demolition and sequenced the rest of the work around them before incorporating the existing brick into the new main entrance. “We took out the windows, repointed the area, and reincorporated it all into the construction,” says Mark Hildreth, project manager for Pavarini McGovern. “IAC has been there for almost 50 years, so it was important to them to have the new building remain engrained in the neighborhood.”
Space. Construction sites in New York City are always tight. But in this case, the site is a row building, meaning there is no wiggle room to expand on either side. And since one of the goals of the project was to maximize theater space, the design left literally no tolerances. “The theater was designed to 1/8th of an inch,” says Hildreth. “Having the builder show up and say ‘they’ll sort it out’ just wasn’t an option here.” Instead, Hildreth and his team worked much more closely with the design team upfront than usual, hosting extra coordination meetings, using 3D modeling to hone the coordination process, and spending additional time together scrutinizing the details during preconstruction.
Theater considerations. Changes to the plan required circling back to see if and how it affected the theater design, says Hildreth. “Any small change or dimension needs the architects, sound engineers, and theater consultants to weigh in. It definitely adds a level of complexity.” The team worked together to make sure the walls had extra separation and acoustical properties, that the HVAC units on the roof were installed properly to avoid sound and vibration issues, and the theater itself could be as flexible as possible to accommodate the wide variety of programming planned. Built-in seating can telescope in and out depending on the performance, and a removable platform can add two extra rows of seating if needed. “Reconfiguring the theater into different layouts was essential to IAC’s creative vision, allowing the space to accommodate both traditional end-stage formats as well as more immersive performance arrangements,” says Carl Krebs, FAIA, partner at Davis Brody Bond.
Neighbors. The new IAC isn’t just bordered by buildings—it shares a party wall with occupied apartments. Throughout construction, safety and noise considerations were an even more pressing concern than usual. Pavarini McGovern installed wall pins to support the adjacent building during demolition and consulted regularly with the owner’s representative, Jonathan Rose Companies, to communicate updates to the residents. What’s more, IAC staff are still working in the building behind, so the team also had to be cognizant of their operations and frequent visits to check on progress.
The 11th Avenue building is set to open in the fall of 2020. “It’s incredible to see this is really happening,” says Connelly. “There were so many moving parts—and constituencies—to bring into alignment, and a huge amount of fundraising and diligence required to get it right and ready to go. It’s just been hugely gratifying for us to bring everyone together and get it over the line.”
Client: Irish Arts Center
Owner’s Rep: Jonathan Rose Companies
Architect: Davis Brody Bond/Ireland’s Office of Public Works
MEP Engineer: ads ENGINEERS
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
Theater Design: Fisher Dachs Associates
Acoustics Design: Jaffe Holden Acoustics
Completion: Fall 2020
- Fully rebuilds a former tire center to become a world-class arts center
- Doubles the capacity of their former theater
- Braces and reintegrates original 1916 brick façade
- Excavated 17ft of Manhattan bedrock
- Used 3D modeling to coordinate MEP systems in a tight space