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14 Penn Designers Win Award for 1920s Lobby Restoration

By Alan Neuhauser | April 30, 2013 7:32am | Updated on April 30, 2013 10:46am

MIDTOWN — The $1 million overhaul of an iconic Midtown lobby ranked among the top historic-preservation projects in 2012, earning coveted honors at the New York Landmarks Conservancy's Lucy G. Moses Awards at Grand Central Terminal Monday night.

International design firm Swanke Hayden Connell Architects took home a Moses award for its work at 14 Penn Plaza, which restored the 88-year-old building's lobby and vestibule to its 1920s luster, all while adding a host energy-efficient infrastructure.

"The owners restored the lobby and vestibule back to their historic place, even though the building's not a designated landmark," conservancy public policy director Andrea Goldwyn said. "We thought it was really cool that they recognized the beauty of the historic features, that they were willing to recognize the features, and they recognized that it would be attractive to tenants."

14 Penn Plaza, a 22-story office building, was one of nine properties to be named for a Moses award. In addition, preservation advocate Franny Eberhart received the the conservancy's Preservation Leadership Award, Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall took home its Public Leadership Award, and FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts was awarded the Preservation Organization Award.

A team of roughly eight architects, designers and assistants worked on the 14 Penn project, said Elizabeth Moss, director of historic preservation for Swanke Hayden Connell Architects. The lobby had undergone near-constant renovation since it opened in 1925, most recently in 2002, and upgrading the space took two years from design to completion.

"By the time we got involved with this project, the existing vestibule and lobby, which in 2002 had been considered state-of-the-art, was appearing dated and incongruous with the historically significant building," Moss said. "We did a lot of research. We found the historical documentation on it. We did investigative probes to find interstitial places where we could place mechanical upgrades and conceal the systems."

A highlight, she described, was a series of bronze grills in the lobby that matched the Gilded Age aesthetic, but provide heating, air conditioning and venting to the lobby.

"These grills were made based on the design that we came up with that we noticed elements of on the facade," Moss said.

She added that an occupied building posed a challenge.

"We definitely had to do a fair amount of dismantling of what was there, and do it in such a way that the occupants remained safe to go about their workday," Moss said.

The work was completed last year. The building's owner, South Williamsport Holdings, took home a crystal trophy. Swanke Hayden Connell Architects received a certificate.