Rogers Marvel Architects is designing the new, 2,000-square-foot space, which is slated to open in early 2012.

Photo ' Carl Yost

The NYC Center for Architecture is expanding. AIA New York recently signed a 10-year lease for the ground floor and basement of 532 Laguardia Place, a neighboring five-story brick building with rental apartments on the upper floors.

The new space will add 2,000 square feet'1,200 at street level and 800 below'to the center's existing 12,000 square feet, a 16 percent increase.

When AIA New York opened its Center for Architecture in 2003 in the heart of Greenwich Village, it was among a handful of AIA chapters that offered a communal space intended to both serve members and engage the public. The center quickly became a vibrant gathering spot and found itself squeezed for space. Now, eight years, 20 exhibitions, and more than 1,000 public programs later, it is expanding.

On July 22, AIA New York signed a 10-year lease for the ground floor and basement of 532 Laguardia Place, its neighbor to the south, a five-story brick building with rental apartments on the upper floors. The new space will add 2,000 square feet—1,200 at street level and 800 below—to the center’s existing 12,000 square feet, a 16 percent increase.

Though he wouldn’t disclose terms of the lease, Rick Bell, AIA New York’s executive director, expects to pay for the expansion with “a little bit of scrimping and saving” and by renting out the expanded meeting space. “We’re doing about three things a night in our three [existing] meeting rooms, and we’re turning people away,” Bell says. “It’s limiting the number of partnership programs we can do, and that’s really our lifeblood.”

AIA New York has commissioned Rogers Marvel Architects to design the expansion, for what Bell called the firm’s “masterful” ability to blend public and quasi-private space; he cited its recent competition-winning entry to reconfigure the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., and its security-driven design interventions on Wall Street—faceted barriers and rotating turntable checkpoints that restrict vehicular access while remaining permeable to pedestrians.

Design concepts for the center’s expansion have yet to be developed, but they will likely entail breaking through the wall between the two buildings. Bell expects the ground level will be devoted to desperately needed meeting space, while the basement will be reserved for storage and other functions. Marta Sanders, an associate architect at Rogers Marvel, says they are still deliberating on how to blend the old and new. “One thing we’ve really thought about,” she says, “is how to deal with the presence of the new storefront: whether it wants to be visible from down the street, or whether it wants to defer” to the existing center.
In the expansion, Bell aims to incorporate the sense of openness found in the existing center—a light-filled cascade of meeting rooms and galleries designed by Andrew Berman Architect. The center begins at a glass-fronted ground level and descends two floors, with clear sightlines between the street and lower levels. “Our mission is not that of an aloof, members-only kind of professional society with a clubhouse,” Bell says. “We have a public mission—so we have a storefront.” That storefront space serves 75,000 people yearly, including the nearly 5,000 members of AIA New York.

Bell is also quick to point out an unexpected amenity in the new space: a small patio. “For New Yorkers who are not used to having a backyard, it’s a phenomenal design opportunity,” he says. The American Society of Landscape Architects and the Horticultural Society of New York are helping develop the outdoor area.

The expansion will temporarily open to the public in October, in conjunction with AIA New York’s “Archtober” festival. More permanent alterations will follow during the winter, with the final opening slated for early next year.

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