Go inside the new glass dome atop Union Square’s Tammany Hall

November 16, 2020

Photo by Christopher Payne | ESTO

If you’ve walked by Union Square over the past year, you might have spotted something different. Rising atop  Reading International’s landmarked Tammany Hall is a modern glass-and-steel dome. BKSK Architects designed the addition, which can house a variety of commercial uses, with the building’s history in mind. Though many associate Tammany Hall’s history with political corruption, BKSK wanted people to understand that its namesake is actually Lenape Chief Tammanend, who worked towards a peaceful relationship with 17th-century European settlers. Ahead, see amazing photos of the dome’s exterior and interior and hear from BKSK partner Todd Poisson about its construction and how it was conceived to resemble a turtle breaking out of water.

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square
Photos by Christopher Payne | ESTO

6sqft: How did the building’s history factor into your design? 

Todd: Tammany Hall’s social history was a central driver for the design. We were surprised to rediscover the true namesake of Tammany Hall is a legendary 17th Century leader of the Lenape, Chief Tammanend. He was known for supporting peaceful coexistence with 17th-century European settlers, and he inspired both pre- and post-revolutionary political clubs to listen to all voices while they debated what a new republic could be. Dozens of populist Tammany Societies dotted the young United States, but only New York’s Tammany Hall survived into the 20th Century. By then, the name Tammany had become synonymous with corruption and greed; this was an ignominy we felt in need of an overdue correction.

In order to refocus public awareness on Tammany Hall’s namesake, we went back to its roots.  We took inspiration from the image of a great turtle rising from the sea–Chief Tammanend’s clan symbol and a scene from the Lenape creation story–to give this Neo-Georgian building the grand dome many Georgian and Neo-Georgian buildings originally had, or now like Tammany Hall, acquired over time. Along the way, we consulted the Lenape Center to ensure the appropriate use of cultural symbolism. We analyzed domed buildings from the ancient Pantheon to Norman Foster’s contemporary reinterpretation of the Reichstag’s glass dome. We read histories of Tammany Hall including Machine Made by Terry Golway.

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square

6sqft: What was the process like working with the LPC and the local community board?

Todd: Over the years, we’ve achieved over 45 approvals for Certificates of Appropriateness from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and a fair amount of our work continues to involve individually Landmarked buildings or buildings in Landmark districts. We engage very early in the process with LPC staff and the Director of Preservation to gauge their receptiveness to our initial ideas for a project and our design work only improves with repeated interaction with them and the community.

For example, the local community board had a strong reaction against our initial proposal which removed Tammany’s slate-covered hip roof, an architectural feature we felt was an afterthought as it was a bit tepid compared to the exuberant roofscape of its inspiration, the original Federal Hall on Wall Street. We returned with a scheme much closer to what was ultimately built, a design that reimagined the slate roof as a lower section of the glass and steel dome, with terra cotta sun shades in the exact plane where the slate roof tiles once stood.

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square
Photos by Christopher Payne | ESTO

6sqft: Tell us about the physical structure of the dome.

Todd: The domed vertical enlargement encloses an additional 30,000 square feet of rentable square feet over three floors on the top of the historic building with dynamic views of Union Square and beyond. The dome is comprised of over 2,000 2”x 6” steel tube purlins with customized node intersections and varying wall thickness depending on location. There are 850 triangular insulated glass units structurally glazed to the free form shell grid steel. The glass is from Eckelt, a member of the Saint Gobain group. The glass product is an insulated glass unit comprised of a clear float glass panel facing the exterior with a high-performance sputter coat solar coating on the underside, and two layers of laminated glass facing the interior. We studied combinations of frit, film, and tinted glass and eventually chose two insulated glass unit assemblies using a combination of clear and tinted glass. The slightly clearer of the two assemblies encloses the lower areas of the dome where Tammany’s small hipped roof once stood, portions of which are shaded by the terra cotta sunshades occurring in the same inclined plane as slate tiles once sat. Strategic placement of projecting painted stainless steel fins on the exterior of the upper dome offer articulation to the shell and also provide rain and snow control.

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union Square

BKSK Architects, Tammany Hall, 44 Union SquarePhoto by Francis Dzikowski

6sqft: What’s one thing about the project that you think would surprise most people?

Todd: We hope the iconic new top to Tammany Hall’s historic building will make people pause and curious to find out more about the undulating organic form of the dome and come to share our rediscovery of the Lenape influence which surrounds us here in Manhattan. It might be surprising to learn we used cross-discipline computer modeling and image rendering software used in automotive, industrial, architectural, and video game design to create a parametric mesh evoking an amphibious shell breaking through the surface of water. We hope Tammany’s new glass dome appears forever frozen at the very moment that the turtle is breaking through the surface of the sea, shedding water from its shell. Because is at that moment that anything is possible.


All photos by Christopher Payne | ESTO unless otherwise noted

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