Calling the Design Doctors

Two former hospitals turned luxury residences are serving as modern-day examples of adaptive reuse and creative redesign.

By Camilla McLaughlin 

Two adaptive reuse projects in diverse cities — New York and Miami — are bringing new life to old buildings, and creating distinctive residences with an immediate sense of place. These examples demonstrate the opportunities that lay hidden behind the walls and ceilings of hospitals. Although a residential focus is entirely different here, injecting new vitality into an old building and healing a location are very much in line with the original purpose.

DesignDocsIn New York, a Beaux Arts classic, Rutherford Place, has been transformed into a unique mix of duplex, even triplex, residences. Noted architect
Robert Henderson designed the original structure as a maternity hospital, which was a gift to the city from J.P. Morgan. One of the city’s turn-of-the-century classics, it is located in the Stuyvesant Square and Gramercy Park neighborhood, an area locals once dubbed “bedpan alley” because of the number of hospitals.

“The building also has the kind of details they were putting into public buildings” in that era, observes Richard Cantor, a principal of Cantor-Pecorella, the exclusive marketing firm for the building. Carvings of shields, flowers and babies in swaddling clothes highlighting the exterior are a reminder of this past life. The lobby, which like the building is also landmarked, is quite spectacular with original 100-year-old elaborately carved Carrara marble, a gold-leaf-coffered ceiling, marble walls and wrought-iron doors. By contrast, the open, airy, light-filled residences are contemporary. The best is yet to come here. The top three floors, still to be readapted, will be over-the-top penthouses with extensive square footage. For owners, they offer something not often found in today’s market — a unique hybrid experience of something old and something new, according to Cantor.

In Miami, the former Miami Heart Institute, now the Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach, has been reborn as a modernist building, designed by notable Italian architect Piero Lissoni. It seems entirely fitting, seeing as the exterior evokes Miami’s Art Deco heritage. The original building on the site, The King Cole Hotel developed by Carl Fisher, the founder of Miami Beach, eventually was demolished and replaced by the Miami Heart Institute, which moved to another location in 2004. The old hospital became an albatross in the coveted suburban neighborhood that had grown around the 7-acre site.

DesignDocs2Existing structures in Miami are usually not good candidates for adaptive reuse. “They are not fully modernist. They have small windows and lower ceiling heights. You can save them, but they don’t achieve that wonderful luxurious modernism of big expansive views and lots of light and air,” says Allison Greenfield, an architect and partner at Lionhart Capital, the developer of the Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach. “It’s only by serendipity I think at this point something like this could happen. We were very lucky to have a building that was institutional and a hospital. There was so much mechanical stuff that went into a hospital that is hidden behind those low drop ceilings. The space between the actual floor plates is super high.” The space between the floors allowed the developers to achieve ceiling heights of 10 to 12 feet in the residences.

The lush setting adjacent to a lake is exceptional, and current zoning would not have permitted new construction, which makes the property even rarer. Being limited to 10 stories further enhances connections with the natural setting. The uniqueness of the setting and the architecture is repeated in the residences. “It’s very much like you are getting into a vertical home,” says Greenfield. Also, the original hospital had multiple buildings at different heights, which, Greenfield says, “enabled us to give a really wonderful indoor/outdoor living experience for a vertical building. We have units with 2,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet terraces.” Some even have plunge pools.

DesignDocs3And, unlike many new buildings where residences are typically boxes with a few standard layouts, both of these buildings offer a huge range of floor plans and configurations not typically found in condominiums. At Rutherford, no two apartments are alike. Most residences are a duplex or triplex with ceilings up to 17 feet, and feature oversized windows as high as 10 feet. A number of apartments also feature private patios and terraces, many with breathtaking views of Stuyvesant Square and Lower Manhattan. There are 69 different floor plans at the Ritz-Carlton.

While serendipity might have a hand in the process, creative vision and unique design inspire the residences in both buildings.