New York City History Comes Alive in Corporate Lobby Renovation at 85 Broad

Posted February 20, 2018

Before New York was “New York,” there was a building standing at 85 Broad Street. As the city evolved from a minor Dutch colony to a vibrant metropolis to the center of global capitalism, the site has embodied each era. This centuries-long evolution served as the inspiration for the design of ESI Design’s corporate lobby renovation at 85 Broad Street, and the process of combining that history with the demands of modern tenants exemplifies ESI’s unique, story-based design process.

In a way, the deep historical significance of the building should have made the design process simple and straightforward. But when we considered the people who would have to live with our design day after day, a purely history-focused design did not feel right. After all, the building’s primary tenants are technology and media companies that look into the future, not the past. Squaring the history of the site with the innovative tenant base became the central challenge of the design, but luckily it was a challenge our process is well suited to solving.

Across our multiple media architecture projects, and especially in our corporate lobby renovations with Beacon Capital Partners, ESI searches for a distinct sense of place that we can amplify with media, graphics and physical additions. Like Michelangelo carving away the bits of marble that weren’t the David, we don’t want to redesign the buildings so much as unleash the local character that’s already there. With its archaeological ruins, pavers from old Stone Street and the proximity to Fraunces Tavern, we knew that history defined the character of 85 Broad.

To transcend the past and to integrate it with the modern identity of the tenants, we realized the past had to be a starting point, not an end point. To solve the problem, we crafted a narrative that flowed across eras. The design wouldn’t single out a moment in the past, it would tell a story about how this site bore witness to the ongoing, never-ending transformation of America’s greatest city. The City in flux, in all its forms and ages, became the narrative. The design would highlight the journey from the colonial era to the midcentury boom to the post-9/11 resurrection of the neighborhood.

With this new story in mind, we jettisoned an initial plan to physically replicate Stone Street in the 1800s, and instead focused on a map of the City as the unifying design object. The map can transcend time, refer to the present and the past simultaneously, and capture how the physicality of the metropolis emerges from a dialogue between what has been built and what we want to be built. In short, the map embodies our story.

85 Broad St New York ESI Design Beacon Capital Corporate Lobby Renovation

So in the final design, maps that recorded key moments in the history of NYC cap the elevator bays, while a map of the modern city wraps the lobby and security desk. Cut-metal maps of contemporary Manhattan cover the lights in the hallway, while animated maps on the transparent displays trace the historical maps in the elevator bays. Like the site itself, which hosts tech firms atop the ruins of a Dutch West India Company outpost, the design bridges the illustrious past and the promising future.

The dynamic, story-first design process that squares 85 Broad’s historic identity with its modern tenants represents what ESI does best. We’ve used the same ‘lead with the story’ approach to integrate advanced technology with classic Art Deco style at Exchange Place in Seattle and 160 Federal in Boston. We used it to bring the outdoors inside at Wells Fargo Center in Denver and 575 Fifth Avenue in New York City. As we’ve learned at 85 Broad and in every project that is looking to connect a building to its neighborhood, a strong narrative and flexible thinking can transform even the most vexing paradox into a powerful, impactful experience.

Stuart Fox

When Stuart Fox works on an ESI project, he isn’t just a writer, he’s a story designer. As familiar with digital storytelling as he is with words, as comfortable directing live action video as he is developing physical interactives, Stuart leverages every tool from his interdiscplinary experience to craft engaging, educational, emotional narratives.


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