A four story building in lower Manhattan, the Dickey House, under construction.
Dickey House under construction. Courtesy Katherine Marks

After Two Decades Vacant, Manhattan’s Dickey House Will Reopen as a Public School

Providing a unique approach to historic preservation, the restored landmark in the Financial District is conjoined at the podium to the FXCollaborative-designed 77 Greenwich.

New York’s Financial District presents a dizzying array of architectural scales and styles; skyscrapers built in the last century jostle upward across the neighborhood’s irregular grid and impose a near monolithic silhouette from afar. However, there remain a host of historic holdouts in the area that withstood successive waves of development and urban renewal. The Dickey House is one such building, and now, following an extensive retrofit, will host a portion of Public School 150 embedded at the base of the 42-story 77 Greenwich Street designed by FXCollaborative.

The Dickey House was completed in 1809 for the coffee and spice merchant Robert Dickey and his family, in what was then a fashionable residential district. Typical of that era, it was built with load-bearing red brick arranged in a straightforward Federal-style design: the exterior is largely free of ornament, bar Flemish bond brickwork and fluted keystones, and is studded by symmetrically placed double-hung sash windows. Later alterations included a half-story addition—more space to accommodate a transition to tenement housing—and a one-story commercial storefront at the rear, Trinity Place–facing elevation. It is one of only seven pre-1810 houses located south of Chambers Street.

A four story building in lower Manhattan, the Dickey House, under construction.
Back facade of the Dickey House under construction. Courtesy Katherine Marks

The townhouse stood vacant and in disrepair since the September 11 terrorist attacks and was designated a New York City Landmark in 2005. The incorporation of the public school at the tower base, which rises seven stories and is clad in cast stone, was a response to site constraints and greater demand for school seats in Lower Manhattan. It also served as an opportunity for FXCollaborative to demonstrate their zoning know-how.

“The zoning envelope resulted in deeper floors at the base, less suited to residential development. In addition, spectacular views of the harbor open up 100 feet or so above the street,” notes Dan Kaplan, senior partner at FXCollaborative. “Given the increase in the Financial District’s residential population, the School Construction Authority (SCA) was under pressure to deliver school seats. The SCA loved the location and the developer saw that a school in the building was not just an amenity for the residents, but also a way to lift all apartments up into the sky to capture great views.”

Dickey House under construction
Restoration and construction process. Courtesy Trinity Place Holdings

Work began with the evaluation of the dilapidated landmark by engineer Thornton Tomasetti, who, according to vice president Charu Chaudhry, deployed non-destructive evaluation techniques such as baroscopic analysis and surface penetrating radar to determine the overall condition of the facade as well as any internal voids in the mortar. “The solutions included specifying the injection of a compatible grout material in conjunction with the installation of ties to supplement the lateral bond,” Chaudhry states. “This allowed us to preserve the original historic materials—roughly 80 percent of the original fabric—and aesthetics while the masonry walls were strengthened without changing their appearance.”

A 150-ton temporary steel skeleton was installed to support the fragile masonry facade following the condition assessment, and it was only then that the interior could be gutted. The support system stayed in place until completion of the new cast-in-place permanent structure within, which is, in turn, connected to the tower’s floor slabs; a measure that also strengthens the lateral stability of the masonry facade.

Aerial view of Lower Manhattan. Rendering of the Dickey House and FXCollaborative's glass highrise condo building with the freedom tower in the background.
Rendering of FXCollaborative’s 77 Greenwich Street with Dickey House by its side. Courtesy Binyan Studios

As noted by DeSimone Consulting Engineers associate Matthieu Peuler, there were a couple of twists along the way. “Installing large caisson foundations for the new tower required that the drill rig get very close to the steel framing. In fact, it was too close: part of the steel framing was dismantled and reconfigured to accommodate. A large structural crack appeared in one of the landmarked masonry piers, which required a quite elaborate and delicate repair detail.”

The project was developed by Trinity Place Holdings and is expected to open its doors by the end of the year.

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