NYAA: New York Academy of Art

how to transform a Trade School into an Institution 

105-111 Franklin Street, TriBeCa, NYC   Completion: 2001-Ongoing  Storefront Completion: 2019   Size: 52,000 SF


Graduate School of Figurative Arts TriBeCa, New York City

TriBeCa, New York City, 2010-ongoing, Graduate Art School



2001-2: Loft Building Reconstruction, following the fire which destroyed 50% of the interiors, 42,000 Sq ft

2010: Master Plan and Phasing

2010: Phase 1: Library Annex, Galleries, and Fifth Floor renovation

2011: Phase 2, Vertical Circulation, Second Floor studios, Garden Level Sculpture Department, Kiln and Workshops

2012: Phase 3, New Elevator, Restrooms

2013: Phase 4, Infrastructure Upgrade, new Storefront design

2014: Phase 5, H.C. access,

2017: Phase 6, new West Egress Stair

2018-19: Façade Restoration and New Storefront Reconstruction


The New York Academy of Art (NYAA), founded in 1982 by Andy Warhol, is a Graduate School whose program is focused on intensive technical but progressive training in representational and figurative arts.  The NYAA project represents a long productive collaboration between the NYAA’s Leadership and TRA studio, which started in 2001 when the 42,000 sq ft historical Italianate loft building, designed by Benjamin Warner in 1861 and later occupied by the Academy in 1990, suffered a fire which destroyed approximately 50% of the interior.

The Architect’s task entailed, not only to restore the damaged building during a period of 16 weeks with an extremely tight budget but also to transform the small unknown trade school to an Institution. The challenges were augmented by the proximity to the World Trade Center which had been recently attacked.

The 2001 renovation layered new materials juxtaposed to the raw industrial structure, exposed by the baring of the fire New translucent walls, constructed with storefront mullions and polycarbonate panels, at once defined and connected the painting studios, reminiscent of the 1800 French ateliers. In 2002 the redesign of the ground floor, including the reception and library defined the public areas, which were previously absent. The renovated Great Hall became one of the most iconic spaces in Tribeca, hosting the Tribeca Ball and the numerous Art Shows, Benefits and lectures.


The Master Plan, which was initiated in 2010, focuses on the building interior and on life safety issues devising a long term strategy schedule that allows for the work to be done, in multiple phases, during the ten summer weeks. The new organization simplifies circulation, clarifies way-finding, provides a diverse range of flexible gallery spaces and offers long term growth strategies within the existing footprint.

The interior spaces, within the Master Plan structure, remain in constant change, always responding to the requirements of a growing Institution and the evolving philosophies of teaching.

The plan also included the proposed 7,000 SF addition, which represents the last phase of the Master Plan. The design questioned the typical non-descript accretions presently getting built in Landmarked Districts, proposing instead a mansard roof, kind of a urban sculpture, composed of zinc ribbons, sliced and pleated to create north light diffusing skylights illuminating a 7,000 SF column free space.The skylights, slightly visible from the public way, advertise the building’s use, morphing on the west façade into a studio window with integrated signage, claiming its prominence on Finn Square. All the extensive mechanical building systems are exposed on the rear façade, to maximize the usable space.


The design of the interior spaces progressively developed an authentic and responsible loft aesthetic whose raw finishes complement the art being produced, contrasting with the often precious quality of the figurative paintings, the new organization simplifies circulation, clarifies way-finding, critical during the crowded public events, allowing the gritty teaching and studio spaces where art is produced to completely transform into refined elegant galleries where the Art is routinely sold.

The successive renovations demonstrated to have positively changed the way the students live in and perceive the Institution. The design of the interior spaces makes architecture part of the curriculum, every move and dollar is intended to help students create great art and the work becoming more enduring with the completion of every renovation phase. The industrial, authentic, responsible loft aesthetic and somewhat raw finishes, complements the art being produced, contrasting with and highlighting the often precious quality of the figurative paintings. The design responsibly takes full advantage of the historic surviving elements, which will keep getting better with the patina of use.


The façade work demonstrated to be also the most urgent of the phases defined by the Master Plan: prior to the restoration, the historic façade above the ground floor was severely deteriorated and presented major issues with both life safety and energy efficiency. The stone was covered by multiple layers of unidentified coatings and much of it was cracked; the sheet metal cornice was severely corroded and pieces were missing; and the large arched single pane windows allowed extensive noise and air infiltration. An unsightly, non-original fire escape was determined to be structurally unsound, it was also too steep for the evacuation of the large crowds who visit the School during the frequent benefit events.

In close collaboration with the staff of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, appropriate restoration techniques were identified, tested and implemented. The restoration of the upper floors included cleaning of the original sandstone units, repair, repointing and resetting of stone details, since the stone presented many variations, particular attention was given to color matching the restoration mortar, which was often mixed on-site. The original sheet metal cornice was stripped of the existing coating and rust, deteriorated and missing pieces were repaired and replicated. The new windows replacement windows, with insulated glass replicating the profiles of the originals immediately alleviated the air infiltration and draft that the students and faculty endured for years.

Significant to the restoration was the removal of the existing non-original fire escapes, which freed up the façade, showcasing the rhythm and simplicity of the original design.

The recently completed façade restoration, returned the appearance of the façade above the ground level to closely match what it was originally, while largely preserving original historic materials.

The restored façade, completely transformed the way the Institution presents itself to the Community and the overall perception of what was called, during one of the LPZC’s Hearings, the last “bleak block” in Tribeca.


The image of the pre-existing conditions shows the façade as it was prior to the renovation, the stone stained grey, cluttered by the fire escape, with a secretive, mostly closed,1930s stucco and glass block storefront, which completely obliterated the columns, blocked by a 75’ long ramp, the signage limited to a single flag. Interestingly, we had to leave a portion of the wall open on the interior side, so to reveal one of the cast-iron columns, but it took years for the Board to fully understand that the entire original colonnade was surviving and the potential that it offered.  The only known historic photo only shows the colonnade from the side, with no storefront infill visible, opening the possibility to the theory that there was no storefront at all, the building being secured only by the rolling shutters whose original tracks could still be seen. The limited documentation, far from being a negative, was used to support the application at Landmarks, in fact, the design strategy was developed, very early in the process, together with the LPC’s Staff : rather than reconstructing a typical wood and glass storefront with transoms and bulkheads pushed far behind the structure, the proposal consists of more imaginative, minimalistic solution characterized by very transparent projecting niches that exhibit the art offering it to the city, while completely freeing the original columns, leaving them visible from both the exterior and the interior.

 The museum-like vitrines extend within the columns onto the stepped platform, physically augmenting the usable gallery space.  The niches housing the casts create an impromptu classroom on the interior and invite the passersby to explore the art being produced inside

 The new storefront portico, rather than a barrier is a transformative threshold between two distinct spaces. The design, which refers to Gio Ponti's “furnished windows”, ensures the transition between the reception gallery and the outdoor gallery that finds place on the stepped platform. The 75’ long diamond plate ceremonial platform, which spans the entire facade, acts also as the Quad that is missing within the densely used building, an active surface connecting to the neighborhood, where art is displayed and social interaction is encouraged, turning the short block into the “Academy Street”.

Rather than being pushed away, the passerby is invited to approach the Academy, to peek within,  and perhaps to sit on the steps for a while similarly to what we have all done on the classical steps in front of a major University or monument in Europe . The design is the physical expression of the university’s desire to bridge between the insular art world and the community around it. 

The subtle, but effective signage, (signage that the Academy never had) quickly became the branded Instagram backdrop for many of the Academy’s official photos.


The Franklin Street loft building is a rare case of "reverse" reuse, one that brought the historic significance of the building back to its original use. The Academy, similarly to the Judd Foundation in Soho, offers the chance to visit the last single user loft building in Tribeca, whose historic significance is amplified by the fact that it is in essence used for light manufacturing, purpose for which these buildings were originally built.

The adaptive reuse project demonstrated to have changed positively the way the students live in and perceive the Institution making architecture part of the curriculum, every move and dollar spent intended to help students create great art, the work becoming more enduring with each step of implementation, the renovation is a testament to the positive influence good design has on the users. The New York Academy of Art façade restoration and storefront reconstruction has not only greatly improved the institution’s interface with Tribeca and New York City, it has also helped to enhance its image, creating a distinctive and fitting visual presence on Franklin Street.

It is also important to note, although the team did investigate all possibilities for Grants, ultimately it became apparent that, due to urgency of the intervention,  the only way to make the needed façade repairs possible was for the President of the New York Academy of Arts and  its Board Members to raise the required funds privately. The Architect’s team, as they did in the past, collaborated closely with the School Staff to rising to the challenge and making the project possible within the limited budget and the practical constraints, (the School had remain open during most of the work).


The next phase of construction, which is about to start, will see the completion of the upgrade of all the public spaces, including the renovation of the iconic Great Hall, which has not been upgraded since the 2001 fire.The full mechanical upgrade, scheduled for 2020, will complete the transformation of the building,following strict criterias of energy efficiency and air quality control.




TPress and links:



AIA Center for Architecture, Interiors Committee, Speed Presentation Edition 8-Community Interiors, Steelcase, March 22 2017


AIA New York, TRA Studio Restores NYAA’s Façade, by Linda G. Miller, March 22 2017, https://www.aiany.org/news/in-the-news-105/ 


Tribeca Citizen:New York's Academy of Arts Stylisk Makeover: Art Academy embraces architecture, by Erik Torkells, October 9, 2014



Tony Winters and Helen Mitsios, Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century. Penta Studio,2015