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Horizontal Skyscraper Design Is Featured in Oxford Properties' Redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal

Project Marks U.S. First for Oxford as Lead Developer
October 2, 2018
Credit: Cookfox Architects DPC.

Almost 10 months after spending $700 million for most of the land beneath an 84-year-old railroad distribution hub in New York City known as St. John’s Terminal, Toronto-based developer Oxford Properties said it is reimagining the property as "workplace of the future" in the guise of a horizontal skyscraper.

The original four-story masonry building at 550 Washington St. in Manhattan connects Hudson River Park’s Pier 40 to the West Village, SoHo and Tribeca neighborhoods. The expansive structure historically held up to 227 rail cars used in the transport of daily goods, and railroad tracks still line its interior.

Now, Oxford has enlisted the help of architectural firm Cookfox Architects to create a 12-story, 1.3 million-square-foot, "purpose-built campus environment on the West Side that will drive workforce innovation and collaboration." The office building, substantially wider than it is tall, will feature 100,000-square-foot floorplates, which Oxford noted as "exceptionally rare" within Manhattan.

Of 4,453 office buildings within Manhattan, only 15 carry a typical floor size of at least 100,000 square feet, and all of them are along the West Side, according to CoStar data.

The original horizontal skyscraper concept can be found in Shenzhen, China. Global architectural firm Steven Holl Architects completed a 1.29 million-square-foot, mixed-use building in 2009, and describes it as a structure "as long as the Empire State Building is tall." It functions as a headquarters for residential real estate developer Vanke Co. and also includes apartments and a hotel.

The new project isn't the only planned horizontal skyscraper in the wake of the China building, with plans on the board for such a development in Moscow reported earlier this year.

While Oxford currently has about 30 development projects underway globally, St. John’s Terminal is its first U.S. project as a lead developer.

Kevin Egan, head of New York and Global Credit at Oxford Properties, said that St. John’s Terminal "represents the next phase in the evolution of our U.S. business."

As part of the first phase of redevelopment, Oxford will remove an overpass on the North side of the property so that the area opens unto Hudson River Park. That step will also expose original railroad tracks, which Cookfox said will be "a central design feature" of the project. Three of the building’s original four stories will be retained. A new glass facade will give tenants 400 linear feet of unobstructed, west-facing sunset views.

Oxford declined to disclose the total redevelopment cost, but said that in addition to the overpass, the site above Houston Street still owned by sellers Atlas Capital and Westbrook Partners will be razed. Prospective tenants would be slated for move-in during 2022.

Dean Shapiro, head of U.S. developments at Oxford Properties, said:

We felt a tremendous responsibility to re-imagine St. John’s Terminal in an authentic yet modern way. St. John’s Terminal has a long history as a hub of innovation and productivity. Its unique form allows us to create workspaces that reduce the friction of expansion and change over time, so tenants can focus on productivity.

Our intent is to return the building to a place of prominence for the next generation of New York’s economy. With Hudson Square emerging as one of the city’s most exciting neighborhoods, the timing is perfect to activate this building in a way that connects the community to the greenway and Pier 40.

For the building’s re-use plan, Cookfox incorporated a biophilic design, known in architecture for emphasizing the connection between humans and surrounding nature. In its final form, St. John’s Terminal is expected to incorporate "numerous outdoor retreats for building tenants, including a greenscaped rooftop and terraces overlooking the river." Adamson Associates has been retained to work on the project as an executive architect and Gensler will lead interior design.

"By opening the site with the removal of the overpass and incorporating the rail beds, we’re connecting the building with the neighborhood, and at the same time creating a workplace that is connected with nature," Cookfox founding partner Rick Cook said. "This building will be the next generation of high-performance, biophilic workplace to support wellness and productivity for occupants, with access to outdoor gardens for the building tenants and new public spaces that will improve access to Hudson River Park."

Oxford Properties is also working alongside Related on the 9 million-square-foot joint-venture redevelopment of Hudson Yards. Other projects within its 60 million-square-foot global portfolio include 600 Massachusetts Ave. in Washington, D.C, the St. James’ Market in London and EY Tower in Toronto.

Diana Bell, New York City Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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