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Stately Restoration: New York State Capitol Assembly Chamber Floor by Françoise Bollack Architects

Albany, New York: A treasure trove of 19th century design is restored and adapted for a 21st century democracy.

by ArchNewsNow
April 4, 2004

The New York State Capitol in Albany, built 1867–1899, contains a rich history of turn-of-the-century design. The legislative (third) floor includes two of Leopold Eidlitz’s masterful Gothic Revival interiors: the Assembly Chamber and the Assembly Parlor. Following a major fire in 1911, the corner Committee Room, the Speaker’s Conference Room, and the corridor in the western section of the third floor were redesigned with a Beaux Arts architectural treatment. Over the years, double height volumes had been in-filled with offices, storage, and mechanical equipment, and original surfaces and decorative finishes had been concealed or destroyed.


Motivated by a desire to provide universal access to the New York State Assembly Chamber, the NYS Assembly commissioned New York City-based Françoise Bollack Architects to renovate and restore the Chamber and related third floor public spaces. The combination of styles and existing conditions presented numerous challenges in the restoration of ceremonial spaces as well as in the design of new offices, meeting rooms, and bathrooms.


The initial phases of restoration work focused on the Assembly Chamber, introducing universal access and allowing the lobbies to again function as screens and vestibules. The Chamber could then resume its position as the “People’s Chamber” – a legislative room that invites public interaction and embodies democratic values. New ramps for the East Vestibule and West Lobby are sympathetic stylistically to the existing historic design. Ramps were also added to the restored Rostrum as well as to the Chamber. The now accessible Viewing Galleries, with new stepped seating, were reopened with their original vaults carefully restored to their original polychromatic splendor.


The challenge in the Eidlitz-designed Beaux Arts Speaker’s Conference Room was to restore the perimeter conditions of the room, installing the historic tall windows and low marble HVAC enclosures that tie into the restored marble border and base. This work, as well as the new perimeter lighting, makes the meeting room much brighter and offers commanding views of the city.


For the restoration of the Gothic Revival Assembly Parlor, also designed by Eidlitz, extensive research was conducted into the original colors and design of the room. The original stencil patterns were recreated using two 1880s black-and-white photographs, and the bead board-paneled, coffered ceiling was restored. Introducing adequate lighting, electrical/data, and HVAC to the Parlor was a complex endeavor. Additional supply and return air is provided along the west wall by linear slots cut through the 18-inch-thick brick wall requiring intricate and coordinated shoring. The air moves through delicate new grilles that match the patterns of the historic stencil bands.


In addition to the restoration work, new design elements were incorporated when the program required new spaces, primarily office and conference rooms. As a result of the new universal access from the West Corridor to the West Lobby, a major reconfiguration of this area was necessary. The new program called for a reception area and a conference room for the Speaker. Large transparent glass walls and wood surfaces were added to create a light yet warm office environment, allowing the historic building to coexist with the new program elements. One glass wall placed on the diagonal creates two rooms easy circulation from the reception area to the Speaker’s Office.


In another office, Room 343, originally part of the main vaulted corridor, the historic plaster vault and marble walls, which had been concealed, were restored. This room continues as a private office, but the introduction of two new high glass walls reintroduces daylight to the public circulation area, while door-height wood paneling provides privacy and adds warmth to the office. In the Majority Leader's Office (Room 341), a partition separating the reception area (Room 341a) was removed – the high ornate plaster ceiling now continues through the spaces unobstructed. A new lower glass ceiling in Room 341a adds privacy and light – and a view to the historic ceiling above.


This extensive architectural work completes the fourth phase of the overall master plan for the restoration of the New York State Capitol, and will both preserve and reinvigorate this venerable historic public building. The project was presented with the 2003 Award of Merit from the AIA New York State.


Project credits:


Owner/Client: New York State Assembly

Client Team: Sheldon Silver, Speaker; Randall Bluth, Commissioner, Legislative Bill Drafting Commission, and Project Director for Phases I, II, III; Joseph O’ Brien, Director of Operations and Project Director for Phase IV; Paul Fote, Project Manager; Andrea Lazarski, Restoration Coordinator, NYS Commission on the Restoration of the Capitol


Architect: Françoise Bollack Architects, New York City

Project Team: Françoise Bollack, AIA (Principal-in-Charge); Phase IV: Laura Heim, AIA, Fernando Villa, Assoc. AIA; Phase I, II, III: Sarah Diaz, Jeff Atwood, Jeff Dembowski.

Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates, New York City

Mechanical Engineer (MEP): Landmark Facilities Group, East Norwalk, CT

Glass Consultant: Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, New York City

Lighting Consultant: Kugler Tillotson Associates, New York City

Photography: Seth Boyd; Gary Gold

Construction Contractor (Phase IV): Ganem Contracting Corporation, Clifton Park, NY


Françoise Bollack Architects is a New York City-based architectural firm founded in 1981 specializing in new design in historic settings and historic preservation, as well as retail, office, institutional, and residential design. The renovation of and addition to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City earned the firm four awards. Other projects include: Chesterwood Visitor Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts; Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, NY; P.C.F.G. New York Headquarters; and several boutiques and showrooms. Françoise Bollack, AIA, is an adjunct professor of design in the Historic Preservation Department of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University where she directs the Design Principles for Preservation studio.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Gary Gold)
New York State Assembly Chamber restored

(Gary Gold)
Assembly Chamber: rostrum and west gallery

(Gary Gold)
East gallery ceiling detail

(Gary Gold)
East vestibule

(Gary Gold)
East vestibule

(Gary Gold)
East vestibule

(Gary Gold)
West lobby and corridor

(Seth Boyd)
Restored Assembly Parlor

(Seth Boyd)
Restored Speaker's Conference Room

(Seth Boyd)
Reception area in Majority Leader's Office: a glass ceiling adds privacy and light - and a view to the historic ceiling above.

(Seth Boyd)
Entrance to Room 351, a new office in the west lobby

(Seth Boyd)
Interior of Room 351

(Gary Gold)
Detail of diagonal wall and glass fins

(Gary Gold)
Governor's reception room

(Françoise Bollack Architects)
Floorplan and section

© 2004