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News February 2015

Days are numbered for SOM’s American Bible Society Building

February 17, 2015

The American Bible Society, famous for translating the Bible into hundreds of languages, is leaving New York after nearly two centuries for more economical accommodations in Philadelphia, a block from the Liberty Bell. In doing so, the organization will vacate its 1966 purpose-built headquarters at 1865 Broadway (61st Street) in the shadow of Robert A. M. Stern’s 15 Central Park West.

The 12-story exposed aggregate building was designed by J. Walter Severinghaus for SOM under design partner Roy Allen. Ten rigid stories of 50-foot-clear span office floors rest on top of the defining bush-hammered cast-in-place first floor columns and second floor girders. The otherwise structural precast concrete building was designed to offer an open plaza by denying the angled Broadway street wall and stubbornly setting back as if to adhere to the absent orthogonal city grid.

In 1996, FXFOWLE replaced the original bronze-tinted glazing, reorganized the Society’s office space into new “workgroup concepts” and addressed the Broadway identity with a two-story sculptural glass pavilion, which swept a glass-sheathed space frame into the plaza. Replacing the original plaza monument and flagpoles and the interior bookshop and library in the process, much of the physical public identity was altered to include an improved bookstore, reception and entry but also to reflect the Society’s new initiatives amidst a stable mission.

In 2004, G and L Architects (now Selldorf Architects) introduced the current MOBIA (Museum of Biblical Art) with a series of galleries and educational spaces featuring rare scriptures.

Earlier this month, AvalonBay Communities Inc. emerged victorious from a high-stakes bidding war as the new owners of the building. The final cost is reported to be $300 million. AvalonBay plans to clear the site for a new high-end luxury tower designed by Goldstein Hill & West. Although only 40 floors, the new tower will rise to a height more typical of a 60–70-story residential building in order to capture Central Park views.

Coverage in the WSJ

– Sean Khorsandi

The American Bible Society Building, SOM (1966), FXFOWLE (1998), Selldorf (2004). Photo by Sean Khorsandi
Early photo, The American Bible Society Building, SOM (1966). Photo http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?p=121174350