QPK Design LLC
Take a stroll down Albany’s historic Broadway; you’ll encounter a veritable palette of architectural styles, from Romanesque revival to industrial brick to all manner of modern offshoots.
So when the city’s planning board approved the first phase of a $98 million renovation of Quackenbush Square this past January, the team at QPK Design, a Syracuse-based architecture and engineering firm, knew it couldn’t simply build in spite of the existing stock.
“When we’re working next to old or historic buildings, it’s important that we consider them and respond to them without imitating them,” says Eugenia Brieva, partner and designer with QPK Design. “It’s a matter of balancing that respect for the past with an understanding of the contemporary parameters.”
Quackenbush represents one of the biggest projects to date for QPK, whose list of clients runs the gamut from military complexes and hospitals to retail establishments and residential buildings.
It also epitomizes Albany’s efforts to attract a more diverse crowd to the city’s downtown, giving young professionals 500,000 square feet of mixed-use space that balances culture, urban living, convenience and commercial appeal.
Phase one of the updates to the historic neighborhood will include the addition of a 10-story Hyatt hotel, slated to be open for guests as early as 2019.
Here, distinctly modern features abound, including underground parking and a plaza connecting the historic Quackenbush Place with all adjacent streets. Subsequent phases will include two new buildings, further defining the interior of the block as an open-air, public gathering space. The resulting structures will be clad with panels of varying color texture, with windows complementing the existing industrial stock.
Nearby, a significant portion of the Hyatt’s lower floors, including the street façade, will feature metal panels whose rust coloring mimics that of the nearby brick.
“The goal is to have the organized patterns on the new façades communicating with the patterns of the historic buildings,” Brieva explains.
Next to the hotel will be a pair of mixed-use buildings—seven and eight stories high, respectively—featuring multiple floors of residential units over street-level retail. The resulting skyline will have the visual effect of a gradual downward slope, from 10 stories to seven to the existing, three-story Albany Pump Station, a popular restaurant that also happens to be one of Albany’s oldest buildings.
That approach—of giving a centuries-old city a contemporary feel, complete with simple shapes, modern materials and smart rain-screen systems—has long been the standard in Europe and South America, says Brieva, who learned the trade in her native Chile.
“It’s not uncommon to see very old cathedrals alongside all-glass office buildings,” she says. “In Chile and other countries, they think of it as complementing by contrast.”
Still, not every project demands the conceptual balancing act of Quackenbush Square. Sometimes, what the client wants isn’t to merely work around history, but embrace it.
Honoring the past
Located in the Southern Tier region of New York, Elmira College epitomizes the gothic style of so many 19th century campuses.
So when the small liberal arts school approached QPK in 2010, with the idea of building a brand new dormitory that reflected Elmira’s architectural traditions, Brieva relished the challenge, however daunting.
“The amount of research involved was incredible,” Brieva recalls. “It’s like being given a very complex recipe for a meal you’ve never cooked before. You have the tools to figure it out, but you’re also learning things as you go.”
Utilizing brick and limestone as the primary exterior, Meier Hall incorporates gothic elements throughout, including majestic towers, steep gables and ornately decorated entryways. According to Brieva, part of the challenge was to incorporate these centuries-old architectural principles in a way that met current codes.
QPK also spearheaded the redesign of Cowles Hall, the oldest building on Elmira’s campus. After stabilizing much of the 70,000-square-foot structure, QPK set to work replacing dilapidated interior wood structures with steel and concrete, as well as repairing existing exterior walls from the foundations up.
The project’s artistic apex is spacious and bright in the form of a four-story, non-denominational chapel replete with stained-glass windows, stained oak panels and moldings, custom pews, gutted and replaced floors and seating for 348 occupants.
“When a client can clearly articulate the logic behind an idea, as was the case with Elmira College, we’ll work with them to bring their vision to life,” Brieva says. “Even if you had a different idea in mind, seeing the end result is always thrilling.”
The two-fold project was so well-received that it netted QPK four different awards—just a few of the dozens of honors garnered by the company over the years. But for all the accolades, Brieva’s firm didn’t get to where it is by relying on the flourishes. Like every project it puts its name to, QPK’s success is about having the right design foundation.
“We want every project to have quality design without technical failures,” Brieva says. “When you’re passionate about your work, it shows.”
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