Pioneers in Adaptive Reuse Laud New York’s Mayoral Office-to-Residential Conversion Push

A recent announcement from the office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams has pushed adaptive reuse architecture back into the spotlight — specifically the reuse of empty commercial office space as affordable and market-rate housing. According to the principals of RKTB Architects, the challenges are significant but the potential for alleviating the housing crisis is substantial.
The architects speak from deep and broad experience: RKTB made a splash as a young firm in the 1970’s with pioneering designs that transformed office, warehouse and other commercial structures into viable — even glamorous — multifamily residences. Famously the firm converted an office high-rise on Manhattan’s East Side into the now iconic Turtle Bay Towers, known for solarium-style facade interventions that resulted in bright, sunny apartments with enviable glass-enclosed terraces.
Since then, RKTB has become synonymous with housing innovation in New York. According to design principal Carmi Bee, FAIA and managing principal Peter Bafitis, AIA, Mayor Adams’ push to ease restrictions on office-to residential conversions is important and timely and deserves support from state legislators in Albany.
“Converting office floors and buildings to support residential uses can be complicated, because apartments need a certain amount of light and ventilation to be properly habitable” says Bafitis, who co-chairs the AIA New York Housing Committee. “But with support from the city and state governments, developers and architects can seize an opportunity to significantly increase the stock of available housing.”
The potential for adding hundreds or even thousands of units of affordable housing is especially high, according to Bafitis and Bee.
RKTB will host a talk on the conversion strategy for Turtle Bay Towers presented by Carl Kaiserman, one of the firm’s founders and an instrumental figure in pioneering adaptive reuse in New York City, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday October 11. Primarily for the continuing education of RKTB staff designers, the one-hour talk titled "Adaptive Reuse Applied to Non-residential Buildings for Conversion to Legal Residential Use” will take place at the firm’s office on West 26th Street, and is open to members of working press and other interested parties. (RSVP to
Says Bee, “Every office building is a unique challenge, requiring creativity and innovation to overcome the hurdles. But there is always a path to a viable conversion solution.” He notes that as a general rule the strategy is to locate living spaces along the perimeter to optimize daylight and ventilation, while utilizing the floor plate core for things like shared amenities — or even for mixed-use interventions like retail or vertical farming.
“It’s an opportunity to enhance existing neighborhoods and communities, infusing them with vitality and economic activity,” he says.
Feature Image Courtesy of RKTB Architects

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