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Converting commercial buildings for residential use.

Although the conversion of 45 Wall Street to residential use is one of the highest profile projects underway in New York City, for Meltzer/Mandl - the architects for the development - designing buildings that are the focus of attention is nothing new.

One of New York's hottest architectural firms, the recently formed Meltzer/Mandl Architects has also designed such remarkable projects as The Actors' Fund Aurora residence, Isaiah House, a 45,000 square-foot homeless shelter in Times Square, an Off-Broadway theater on West 42nd Street, and facilities for Pratt Institute.

But few buildings are as challenging as Rockrose Development Corporation's 45 Wall Street, the first large-scale conversion of a commercial office building to residential use under Mayor Giuliani's new Lower Manhattan Plan. The project's ceremonial ground breaking was July 17th, and it is expected to be completed by next year.

"We're excited about working on such a pioneering development," says partner Marvin Meltzer. "When completed, 45 Wall will bring a new, vibrant and vital around-the-clock flavor to Manhattan's financial district."

But the 437-unit 45 Wall is a ground-breaking project in another way. Meltzer-Mandl architects is self-certifying the structure, doing away with the need to go through the New York City Department of Buildings' review process. Some smaller buildings in Manhattan have been self-certified, but never before has it been done with such a large building.

Without using the self-certification process, the project would be stalled while construction drawings were reviewed by the Building Department. This process eliminates the typical delays involved in the issuing of a construction permit.

"The self-certification process is a major benefit to our client," emphasizes Mandl. "It allows a seamless transition from demolition to the construction phase of a project, reducing the overall life of a project by weeks or, more typically, by months."

Many architects have stayed away from the self-certification process on projects of this size. It is a new frontier. While it appears that the architect is assuming greater responsibility, the reality is that the responsibility is always with the architect who has sealed the drawings. But as Meltzer and Mandl point out, "Clearly, going into the process, you must be extremely confident about what you have designed."

Marvin Meltzer's over 27 years of experience designing residential buildings, and David Mandl's 16-year expertise dealing with New York City Buildings Department regulations, made the decision to self-certify a lot less overwhelming.

Meltzer says there are other characteristics about the 45 Wall Street project that make it unique. "Converting an existing office structure into a residential building is much more complicated than most people imagine. In some respects, it is more complex than designing a residential building of new construction," Meltzer says. "The former office building had girders, columns and beams in locations that would not normally exist in a residential building. It is an exciting challenge to integrate these structural elements into a functional and appealing residential layout."

Meltzer/Mandl is the result of a merger of Marvin H. Meltzer Architects P.C. and David Mandl Associates. Being from two different generations did not stop Meltzer and Mandl from combining their architectural firms late last year. While Meltzer's background is in residential architecture and real estate development, Mandl's experience is in zoning/building code compliance and as architect/developer. The two faced the challenge of bringing together two entirely separate cultures and two different areas of expertise.

Meltzer was primarily an architect/designer from the "old school," while Mandl takes pride in his ability to provide detailed designs through a computer aided design system that produces high-speed color construction drawings. Ironically, Meltzer first entered the architectural field because of his love of drawing; now, of course, the traditional drawing boards are replaced by Mandl's seven-year research and development investment in 29 networked 200 megahertz machines. The computers on the network are outfitted with 32 megabytes of RAM, which output to a 16-million color, high-speed electrostatic "E" size plotter. It is a combination of the principals' experience level and these high-powered machines, allowing an incredible amount of flexibility of design and accuracy, that has helped win the firm their most recent projects.

Another of the firm's high-profile projects is The Actors' Fund of America's Aurora Residence on West 57th Street. The Meltzer/Mandl team transformed the building from an unfinished 30-story condominium building into homes for approximately 180 low-income New Yorkers, including people with AIDS and the elderly.

The firm converted the existing apartments into units for shared living and designed the second-floor on-site social and volunteer services offices, as well as a rooftop garden. Meltzer/Mandl coordinated donations to the Aurora in the form of design furnishings and finishes. The Aurora opened in June with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Broadway stars Nathan Lane and Zoe Caldwell.

"We are proud of our involvement in the creation of the Aurora," says Meltzer. "What The Actors' Fund has done here is extremely successful and truly a model concept."

Meltzer/Mandl is now making a niche for itself in senior housing, one of the busiest sectors of development. The firm is currently working on the conversion of a vacant hotel/conference center in Westchester County to an independent living facility, to be called Cambridge House-on-the-Hudson. Construction on the 122-unit development began in July.

Meltzer is well known for planning and designing the 265-unit Melrose Court in The Bronx, which won the 1994 Pillar of the Industry Award for Best Affordable Multifamily Housing, and for designing and rehabilitating 563 units at Crotona Park West, also in The Bronx.

At a time when many architectural firms are fighting to stay above water, the Meltzer/Mandl team is prospering.

"We realize that our merger was clearly a smart move for both of us," say Meltzer and Mandl. "Meltzer/Mandl has brought our individual strengths together in a truly complementary way."
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Meltzer/Mandl Architects
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 16, 1996
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