New York City


'It is special and ordinary at the same time,' says architect Annabelle Selldorf while standing on West 20th Street in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. She's gazing at the board-formed-concrete facade of the new gallery her firm has designed for art dealer David Zwirner. The exterior has the texture and warmth of Le Corbusier's b'ton brut and the precision of Tadao Ando's poured-in-place structures. With rows of teak-framed windows set just a few inches in, the elevation reads as both a skin, stretched taut, and a hefty, weight-bearing mass. It acknowledges two seemingly incongruous aspects of the surroundings, making a nod to the area's not-so-distant gritty past while seeming perfectly at home in a district now dominated by art galleries and the High Line.

Zwirner has two other galleries, both designed by Selldorf and both in existing structures'one occupying three buildings a block away, the other in a London townhouse'but the 20th Street location presented an opportunity to build from the ground up. Although Selldorf studied the possibility of adapting, rather than replacing, the parking garage that stood on the site, she found that the three-story structure's configuration, height, and circulation were poorly suited to the gallery's program.

With this clean slate, Selldorf's team has created a 30,000-square-foot building primarily of reinforced concrete. It houses an ensemble of spaces conceived for secondary-market sales (the category includes older pieces by Zwirner's artists or pieces from the estates he represents), especially large-scale installations like the building's inaugural exhibition featuring the work of Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, presented earlier this year. The main display space'a 65-by-68-foot, and roughly 18-foot-tall, column-free room topped by four north-facing light monitors'occupies most of the ground level. An L-shaped, five-story volume containing more intimate exhibition spaces, private viewing rooms, offices, and support areas wraps the main gallery. The configuration allows almost all of the building to be illuminated by daylight, despite its midblock location with structures directly to the east and west.

The materials and color palette are restrained: white walls, and floors of concrete, oak plank, or, in a few places, travertine, keep the focus on the artists' work. But the building's interior has one dramatic architectural statement'a skylit stair connecting all five floors and defined by the same exquisitely crafted board-formed concrete found on the exterior.

Constructing the formwork for the stairway's walls was a process akin to cabinetmaking, according to Julie Hausch-Fen, Selldorf Architects' project manager. For example, the grade of pine for the 8-inch-wide tongue-and-groove boards was selected to produce just the right amount of wood-grain texture, including knots, on the concrete's surface; the length of each board was carefully considered so that the vertical joints would not align; and corners were sealed with gaskets to ensure crisp edges.

The steps that cantilever from these walls were made with smooth forms, but their details are no less exacting than those for the surrounding walls. They are incredibly thin'the depth of each run's throat (the narrowest point where the tread meets the riser) is only 3 inches. A half-inch reveal between the steps and the wall reduces this dimension even further, and it creates the impression that the stair is almost floating. Of course there is plenty of steel inside the concrete to ensure its structural integrity, but the amount of rebar and the slenderness of the stair's components made for challenging pours, says Hausch-Fen.

The meticulously designed stair and countless other details conspire to create a museum-quality environment. This characterization extends to invisible features, such as climate controls that maintain temperature and humidity within the tight range that museums demand of other institutions wanting to borrow pieces from their collections. In addition, the mechanical equipment is highly efficient: along with elements such as planted roofs, a thermally robust building envelope with triple-glazed windows, and low-consumption plumbing fixtures, the climate controls have put the project on track for LEED Gold.

Although certification is an impressive goal (the project is expected be the first commercial gallery to achieve a LEED rating), other elements more directly affect the experience of the architecture, though in subtle ways. The most significant is the daylight entering through windows and skylights, which gently pulls visitors from space to space. There are also a few sleights of hand, including the loading dock ingeniously incorporated into the facade composition and concealed behind an oversized, frosted-glass sliding door. Such devices become apparent only gradually. The approach is 'the architectural equivalent of slow food,' says Selldorf. 'Not everything reveals itself at first glance.'

Annabelle Selldorf
Photo © Dean Kaufman

A conversation with: Annabelle Selldorf

Selldorf started her practice 25 years ago after working for Richard Gluckman Architects and Fox & Fowle Architects. Her first solo project was a 'tiny little' kitchen renovation, followed by the renovation of a kitchen and two baths, and then an apartment. Since that time, the scale and variety of her work has grown. The 50-person firm has designed both public and private spaces, including museums, libraries, and an almost-complete 125,000-square-foot recycling facility in Brooklyn. With the help of her three partners'Sara Lopergolo, Lisa Green, and Bill Bigelow'Selldorf is able to maintain involvement in all of the office's work and collaborate with the entire staff. 'It is an interesting reality that one person has to take a leadership role,' she says. 'But leadership isn't about pulling rank. It is about shaping a direction.'


Owner: David Zwirner

Selldorf Architects
860 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
Telephone: 212.219.9571
Fax: 212.941.6362

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Principal: Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA (Registered Architect)
Partner: Sara Lopergolo, AIA (Registered Architect)
Project Manager: Julie Hausch-Fen
Project Architect: David Moore (Registered Architect)

Project Team:
Susan Parapetti (Registered Architect)
Matthew Kanewske
Laura Samul
Dylan Sauer

Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers
MEP Engineer: AltieriSeborWieber
Geotechnical Engineer: Langan Engineering & Environmental Services
LEED / Sustainable Design Consultant: Atelier Ten
Lighting Designer: Renfro Design Group
Terrace Garden Designer: Piet Oudolf
Concrete Consultant: Reginald D. Hough, FAIA
Waterproofing Consultant: James R. Gainfort, AIA Consulting Architects
Environmental Engineer: Roux Associates
Elevator Consultant: IROS Elevator Design Services
Expeditor: Jam Consultants
Specifications Writer: Construction Specification

General contractor: Eurostruct

Portrait of Annabelle Selldorf / Credit: Dean Kaufman

CAD system, project management, or other software used: AutoCAD 2013, THERM, WUFI


30,000 square feet



Completion date:

February 2013



Structural system
Cast-in-place concrete; the main exhibition space has a composite metal deck and concrete roof over castellated steel beams supported by steel girders and columns. Building supported on piles set driven down to bedrock.

South Facade
Cast-in-place concrete, board-formed finish using 8” Southern Pine

Artistic Windows & Doors, Custom Teak Storefront

North fa'ade
Artistic Windows & Doors, Custom Painted Mahogany Storefront + windows, FSC-certified

Stucco system:
StoPowerwall Stucco 80103
Finish: Sto Powerflex Fine – Linen White

Building Envelope
South Façade

  • 12” Cast in place concrete wall
  • Bayseal CCX Closed Cell SPF
  • HENRY 32MR Vapor Impermeable Air Barrier

North Façade

  • 8”  CMU
  • HENRY 32MR Vapor Impermeable Air Barrier
  • DOW – Thermax Sheathing
  • StoPowerwall system

Green Roofs:

  • HENRY-CM-100 Cold Applied Elastomeric Membrane
    • Polyester Fabric Reinforcement
    • Termination Sealant –HE925
  • HENRY-Polypropylene Protection Board-990-31
  • HENRY-Root Barrier – Root Bloc 20
  • HENRY-Drainage Composite – DB-100
  • DOW-Styrofoam PLAZAMATE extruded polystyrene foam insulation
  • HENRY-Filter Fabric GR08
  • Growing Medium and Vegetation

Standing Seam Metal Roof – Main Exhibition Skylights

  • HENRY BLUESKIN SA LT- Vapor Barrier
  • Thermacal non vented roof insulation board
  • Thermacal vented roof insulation board
  • CARLISLE – WIP 300HT Asphalt underlayment
  • PAC CLAD – Weathered Zinc High snap on Standing seam panels

South façade
Artistic Windows & Doors, Teak

North façade
Artistic Windows & Doors, Painted Mahogany, FSC-certified

Viracon Triple Glazed – Low Iron – Low E IGU’s
U value .18
SHGC .36

Store Front System:
Rochester Insulated Glass, Inc (RIG) Double Glazed – Low Iron – Low E IGU’s
U value .26
SHGC .53

Valli & Valli H5003

Hager AB930

Accurate Locks 9000

Concrete, power floated and sealed with Prosoco SLX-100:
Ground floor, entry, office, and main exhibition space; Third floor; Fourth floor; Fifth Floor, viewing room

A&G Marble, ¾” Travertine, Mocha, Honed Finish:
Ground floor, secondary exhibition space

Dinesen Wood Floors, 12” White Oak:
Second floor, Fifth floor, Director’s office, conference room, and circulation

Benjamin Moore, Super White, Low VOC

Window treatments
Mechoshade, EuroVeil fabric
Ground floor, main exhibition skylights; Second floor, south facing windows

DFB, Roman shades, Lanalino fabric
Second floor, south facing windows

DFB Sol-r-shades, White fabric
Third floor, south facing windows; Fourth floor, south facing windows; Fifth floor, south facing windows

Custom Corian reception desk

Philips, LED
down light- C4X4L10DL
wall washer  - C4X4L10WW
Ground floor, circulation and office; Second floor, circulation; Third floor, circulation and open office space; Forth floor, circulation and open office space; Fifth floor, circulation and conference room

Nulux, Washlux 3 incandescent wall washer
Ground floor, secondary exhibition space; Fifth floor, Director’s office and exhibition space

Edison Price-recessed track SLRR-Aluminum finish
Ground floor, exhibition spaces; Second floor; exhibition spaces; Third floor, private offices; Fifth floor, exhibition space

Philips, stacklite metal halide wall washer track heads-STK MH T4-70-120 2C-UVF
Ground floor, exhibition spaces; Second floor; exhibition spaces Third floor, private offices; Fifth floor, exhibition space

Philips, stacklite halogen wall washer track heads – STK 150 WHT-UVF
Ground floor, exhibition spaces; Second floor; exhibition spaces Third floor, private offices; Fifth floor, exhibition space

Pinnacle, T8 linear fixtures
Third floor, private and open offices; Fourth floor, private and open offices

Lutron Quantum lighting system

  • Maestro style wall plates
    • Occupancy Sensors-MS-OPS6M-DV-XX
    • Vacancy Sensors-MS-VPS6M-DV-XX

Dameco Industries, Custom freight and passenger elevator

Vero 045450 Washbasins

Sloan EAF-250-ISM, battery powered, sensor activated, low flow (0.5gpm)

Toto Aquia CT418FC, wall-hung, dual flush, low flow (1.6/0.9 gpf)

Projected to achieve LEED Gold Standard

Other unique products:
Flood barrier system:
Presray, Fastlog system