After 30 years of renting studio space in New York City, Alvin Ailey opened their own studio, the Joan Weill Center for Dance, creating the largest building dedicated to dance in all of NYC.
At 80,000sf, the theater spans two lots on its West 55th Street block, with six floors on the corner lot and three on the mid-block lot due to the neighborhood’s zoning restrictions. Recognizing that they might grow even further, they left enough space within the zoning guidance to add a fourth floor to the mid-block section if the need arose, which it did – quickly.
Since the Weill Center opened in 2005, the dance company has expanded its programs substantially, adding more classes for the general public as well as additional dance companies, a choreography lab and other facilities. After assessing their space needs, the organization determined that adding only one floor just wouldn’t be enough. Instead, they hoped to add three floors that would provide the necessary extra space and align with the other half of their building.
Alvin Ailey enlisted Structure Tone to create the 10,000sf Elaine Wynn and Family Education Wing, which includes four new dance studios, two flexible classrooms and added administrative space, plus renovations to existing studios, dressing rooms, lounges, restrooms and the company’s costume shop.
While the architects had anticipated the addition of at least one new floor when they designed the original building, they had not planned for three. So, one of the first challenges to tackle was structural reinforcement of the existing building to take on the added load. Between the conditions of the floors, the locations of the structural columns, and the discovery of some unanticipated but necessary repairs, the project team had to get creative to add new steel to the building.
With an inflexible deadline and added scope, time was of the essence. The project team pulled together to find ways to get the work done, including modifying the job site to work through challenging winter conditions.
Complicating matters further was the extensive MEP infrastructure on the roof of the mid-block part of the building. The equipment housed there served the entire mid-block building as well as some of the corner lot building, but it had to be moved to add on three more floors. Structure Tone framed the new floors around the equipment, leaving it operating in place until the new MEP equipment was installed on the new sixth floor. Once the new equipment was energized, the team took out the old equipment and continued to finish the remaining interior work.
Having a team that understood the special needs of a dance company and what was required for both interior and core and shell construction proved to be a rare combination. The relationships between all project team members were crucial to completing the work on time while the dance company continued to rehearse, teach and work in the building.