The opening scenes of Moby Dick are set in the counting houses of the South Street Seaport, when the area was characterized by a thriving shipping, dry goods and grocery commerce. By the end of the 20th century, these historic brick warehouses had suffered decades of decay, with many on the brink of collapse. Years later, Cook+Fox joined a massive effort to transform eleven historic but neglected buildings into a thriving, modern neighborhood. Like Melville`s story, told through a series of episodes, Front Street weaves the buildings` rich individual stories into a contemporary narrative. Three modern structures, respectful of the neighborhood`s human scale, have been inserted into the voids, while minimally-invasive restoration work continues a conversation about the Seaport`s evolving sense of place. Front Street is now a mixed-use neighborhood of 95 rental apartments and small-scale, independent retailers. Into the existing fabric of masonry buildings, careful incisions bring light, air, and views. Residents enter through two garden courtyards that open up the block, preserving the commercial character of the streetwall while offering urbanites daily encounters with the natural elements. The project`s three new buildings, while clearly modern, continue an authentic dialogue with the nautical history of the site. Details invoke intangible artifacts, such as whale skeletons and ships` rigging. Demonstrating a commitment to modern environmental stewardship, ten geothermal wells, driven more than a quarter mile into bedrock, provide cooling for the entire project. This technology eliminates the need for rooftop cooling towers on sensitive historic buildings—uniting the related ethics of preservation and conservation. Historic Front Street was selected as part of “The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design” exhibition at the non-profit National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

Renovation, 2006