Our ability to make exceptional architecture in complex circumstances—and the conviction to take on risk to support our design—helped to make The Porter House a local landmark.

When this residential renovation and addition was completed in 2003 at the northern edge of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, it marked a major turning point in the transformation of the area. The boldness and elegance of the project’s 20,000 square foot, four-story addition showcased a playful yet respectful attitude toward adaptive reuse that would come to characterize the evolving neighborhood. But the design didn’t begin with iconic intentions. A sophisticated study of zoning possibilities, particularly air rights, was combined with meticulous structural analysis. This resulted in the proposal to gain additional square footage for the project by extending one side of the new construction eight feet beyond the south wall of the historic building.

After determining that a cantilevered structure was the best way forward, the challenge became integrating that big move with the subtle Renaissance Revival style of the 1905 warehouse. In keeping with the optimism of the project and the Meatpacking District at large in its early days, the decision was made to accentuate the differences between each mass while retaining a consonance in the details and proportions of the whole. The cantilever was resolved by setting the new construction back from the existing facade, creating the appearance of two discrete volumes that could be placed in dialogue with each other—light and dark, brick and metal, old and new.

An authentic material, one that didn’t require additional treatment or sheathing, was essential for the new exterior in order to maintain its relationship to the integrity of the existing structure. When the choice—a French zinc—was jeopardized by cost during project development, SHoP joined with our developer client as partners to absorb the difference. With our investment tied to the outcome of the project, we discovered a beneficial shift in the client-architect relationship. Design could become bolder as decision-making became more fluid, trusting, and productive. This experience inspired us to repeat the co-investment model in other work—protecting our design intent and helping to ensure the financial success of those projects.

To develop the elevation pattern, we worked closely with the fabricator, interpreting software standard to the sheet-metal industry to determine the most efficient layout on a standard-width sheet. Since the panels were cut and bent directly from our digital files, an economy of scale was achieved in the manufacturing process.