Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
This vernacular International Style office building was built in 1956 for the New York Life Insurance Company. Since the insurance company relocated in 1969, the building has had significant changes to its interior. Archival research indicated that it was constructed with an open office layout on both floors with toilet facilities in the basement level. Changes made to the original building were as follows: the planters in the main entry were converted to a pond and another covered; the main stair was given an 80’s facelift; the main entry was tiled with 70’s era tile; a long hallway with rooms to either side was constructed on each floor; a men’s and women’s toilet rooms were constructed on the second floor at the front of the building; the original ceilings were replaced with acoustical ceiling tiles; and the original mechanical systems were replaced with residential systems.
The building was purchased jointly by an architecture firm and a marketing company. The architecture firm occupies half of the main floor with the marketing firm taking the rear half of the main and the entire second floor. The restoration project utilized both state and federal historic tax credits. At completion of the restoration the building was the first midsized mid-century building in Michigan to pursue and be awarded the historic tax credits and one of only a few in the United States to do so.
For the exterior the original steel windows were retained and the glazing was replaced with ¾” insulated glazing. Masonry and wood was repaired and/or replaced as necessary. The entire interior was demolished and rebuilt with new mechanical systems and new plumbing and new electrical to meet 21st century standards. Duct work was carefully placed to minimize its appearance and overall lighting was selected to also have a minimal impact.
Per the Department of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation it was decided that both spaces should be designed with an open office layout with the architecture firm only entirely enclosing the toilet and closet with walls. The standards also define that new architecture is to be indicative of the time in which it is constructed. As a result the architecture was designed to be twenty first century modern. The ceiling in the entire building was left exposed as there was no evidence of the type of ceiling originally used. Upstairs a wall was created to separate the front space from the rear. Archival research indicated that the original interior walls of the building had a wood panel sheathing so a wood wall made of four species of scrap lumber from a local furniture manufacturer was designed to separate these spaces.
The completed, unique restoration successfully resurrects the spirit of the original design while framing a twenty first century design.