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September 19, 2023

From textiles to tech: Amazon opens new Manhattan office in old department store

  • The building was designated a New York City landmark in 2007.
    A/E Editor

    Photos by WRNS Studio, Bilyana Dimitrova [enlarge]
    Amazon built a two-level addition atop the historic building that houses a mix of amenity spaces including an outdoor terrace.

    Midtown Manhattan's Lord & Taylor building, which first opened in 1914 as a flagship department store in the city's then-burgeoning garment district, is now the new office for some 2,000 tech workers, following Amazon's move-in to the historic property earlier this summer.

    Last week, the tech giant celebrated the completion of a year's long effort to reimagine and respectfully renovate the building at 424 Fifth Ave. The original 11-story Renaissance Revival-style department store has been transformed into a 13-story modern tech office and social hub with a diversity of workspaces, top-end amenities including dining and events space in a new two-story glass-enclosed addition, and around 35,000 square feet of retail space planned for the first floor.

    Amazon calls its new office Hank, a term which describes a measure of yarn and honors the building's roots as a clothing department store. Amazon purchased the Lord & Taylor building for $1.1 billion in 2020 (which worked out to roughly $2,000 per square foot). The seller was WeWork, which had been planning to renovate the space and turn it into the company's new headquarters. WeWork purchased the building — which till then had continued to operate as a department store — from Hudson's Bay in 2017 for $850 million.

    Workspaces include the Arch Lounge, which incorporates the original entry arch to the Lord & Taylor department store.

    Amazon broke ground on the renovation in 2022. The renovations were designed by architect WRNS Studio, which has an office in downtown Seattle, and were crafted to highlight and respect the building's history and historic architecture while at the same time adding modern amenities and features essential for an innovative tech hub. The project team also included Seattle-based Seneca Group which was Amazon’s Development Manager for the project and also provided real estate advisory services during the acquisition of the Lord & Taylor property.

    The new office is around 695,000 square feet. Employees can choose from a variety of workspaces including open office desks, phone booths, huddle rooms, private offices, and a team suite for collaborative working sessions. There is also a unique work lounge, called the Arch Lounge, which incorporates the department store's original metal and glass entry arch and floods the space with natural light.

    As with all Amazon offices, Hank offers far more than just spaces to work. There are also conference rooms, group meeting rooms, modern bathrooms and kitchens, lounge areas, and training rooms. The addition operates as a multi-level events center, stitched to the old structure via a new spiral staircase. The addition is anchored by a new terrace with a dog run and views of the Empire State Building. A refurbished sunken courtyard that used to mark the top of the historic structure is located one level below and provides an additional outside space for employees to work and gather.

    The top three floors of the new office are dedicated to what Amazon calls its “center of energy,” a signature feature in its workplaces. Hank's center of energy includes the new terrace and events space plus a cafe, coffee shop and lounge.

    To successfully transform an over 100-year-old structure into a comfortable modern office, WRNS Studio had to find ways to get more light into the building and organically connect its floors. This was achieved via the insertion of a new staircase, which is carved out in the center of the historic structure connecting level two through to the rooftop courtyard. The staircase is topped by a glowing skylight called “the lantern,” which brings light from the roof all the way through the building. This central staircase allows employees to walk to different floors and enjoy the natural light coming through the roof lantern.

    A nine-story staircase was carved into the center of the historic building, knitting together floors two through 11.

    The architect describes the staircase as the centerpiece of the renovation that connects “old with new, daylight to each workspace, and employees with one another.” This intervention also supported Amazon's goals for energy efficiency, minimized carbon, and employee well-being. The staircase is black metal and was designed to recall Manhattan's ubiquitous fire escapes.

    Beyond workspaces and amenities, Hank also houses an 8,000-square-foot showroom, collaboration space, and prototyping lab (called the AWS Builder Studio) that showcases products and tools built on AWS. AWS customers who have prototyping projects also have access to a workshop in the building.

    A 1,500-square-foot ground-level events space and community classroom rounds out the project. Amazon has partnered with City University of New York on that space, which will now be used to host university and graduate-level classes, student demo days, and recruiting and alumni events for 25 associated colleges.

    Photo by Carl Forster from Landmarks Preservation Commission document [enlarge]
    The landmarked building prior to Amazon’s renovation.

    While the building has thoroughly modern amenities and interior design elements, great attention has been paid to highlight its history and respectfully incorporate original architecture.

    WRNS Studio says the “interior design embraces a spirit of re-use over replacement, intertwining stories of memory and renewal” with a design that honors “the Lord & Taylor Building's layered history” and “pays homage to the collective memories of New Yorkers who came to acquire their first formal attire or marvel at the department store's holiday window displays.”

    As soon as you enter the new office, employees see the original Lord & Taylor building plaque proudly displayed. Each office floor has a different design theme inspired by a textile that references the historical use or clothing department on each floor.

    In addition, a thread art textile sculpture sits on the walls in front of the building's new central staircase. The sculpture spans nine floors and hints at the building's original purpose and history.

    Additional restored architectural features include original bronze elevator lintels (beams) that have been turned into a 3D art piece on the ceiling of the upper-level events space. Artifacts from the former department store have also been preserved and are placed in new spaces throughout the building.

    At the center of energy, the new coffee shop is named Dot's after Dorothy Shaver, Lord & Taylor's president in 1945 and the first woman president to lead a large department store.

    The cafe is called the Bird Cage and is inspired by the original cafe of the same name. It has an enclosed design and is clad in a commissioned piece of textile art by local artist Brit Kleinman.

    WRNS Studio said the design was also inspired more broadly by the energy and culture of New York City.


    Emma Hinchliffe can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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