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Astor Court Lobbies Restoration

Francoise Bollack Architects

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Project Description

This project entailed the restoration of two large ground floor lobbies at Astor Court, a 13 story apartment building on the east side of Broadway between 89th and 90th street designed in 1915 by Charles Platt for Vincent Astor and built around a large garden courtyard.

The two Renaissance Revival lobbies and classical courtyard were impressive when the building opened but ill considered alterations had transformed the lobbies which were originally light and open into spaces that were dark and claustrophobic. A dark copper leaf had been applied to the vaulted ceilings, multiple coats of glossy paint covered the limestone walls, and the garden doors, originally a light color, had been stripped to their dark copper sheathing. The original sconces and chandeliers were lost: colonial revival light fixtures, with bare bulbs, made the spaces dim and depressing.

We set about restoring the lobbies to recapture their original design and feel. Our guides were the original architect’s drawings and a black and white photograph of the 90th street lobby discovered in the Avery library archive at Columbia University.

The technical challenges first concerned the removal of the multiple layers of paint on the limestone walls because neither their order nor their composition were consistent, requiring different treatments: we made a mock up of the restoration processes in one of the bays to test processes and assured ourselves and the residents of the quality of the results. We ruled out painting over the copper leaf of the ceiling because of the questionable durability of this process, opting instead for the removal of the leaf before painting.

We designed new sconces based on the historic sconce photograph and designed new chandeliers in the same spirit. A local artisan fabricated prototypes and all the light fixtures: the glass shades accommodate energy efficient bulbs. We also designed new doorman desks to work with the vestibules’ space limitations: the desks incorporate a Building Link station, a CCTV screen and multiplexer, electronic signing pad and scanner.

The finishing touches included selecting new area rugs and refinishing the existing mirrors and original furniture.
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