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Empire Stores

Brooklyn, NY

Since 1990, Silman has been the structural engineer for the landmarked Empire Stores buildings, a complex of seven interconnected late-1800s warehouse buildings on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront. The buildings were first used in the shipping industry, then later as coffee warehouses. Their original structure consists of unreinforced brick masonry perimeter walls, Manhattan schist load-bearing demising walls between each building, and a rectilinear grid of heavy timber girders and columns supporting wood joists.

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Early Work

This project’s original client was the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPR&HP), the buildings’ owners at the time. Care of the buildings was later ceded to the NYS Office of General Services (OGS), with whom Silman held a prime contract.

Silman’s engineers prepared the structural section of a Historic Structure Report and completed repair work on portions of the complex including Building 7, where a corner was stabilized by applying steel strapping and tie backs.

Early Work

This project’s original client was the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPR&HP), the buildings’ owners at the time. Care of the buildings was later ceded to the NYS Office of General Services (OGS), with whom Silman held a prime contract.

Silman’s engineers prepared the structural section of a Historic Structure Report and completed repair work on portions of the complex including Building 7, where a corner was stabilized by applying steel strapping and tie backs.

The winning design for the complex’s redevelopment consisted of the restoration of the existing structure and a 2-story steel and glass rooftop addition. Silman orchestrated a renovation that preserved the historically significant components of the building. This included repairing and re-supporting the existing stone and brick masonry load-bearing walls and the heavy timber columns atop a series of new 24” thick mat slab foundations. Historical cast iron elements such as the iconic facade shutters were restored and repainted where feasible.

  • The design team created over 100 large openings through the existing schist bearing walls to make the development functional for office and retail occupancy.
  • The steel-framed structure of the rooftop addition transfers onto existing heavy timber columns and girders and the tops of existing bearing walls.

Silman reframed the existing roof in steel to support the heavy occupancy load and the pavers and planters associated with a new rooftop park. The column-free spaces in the 2-story steel-framed addition allow occupants to enjoy waterfront views.

The renovation also included cutting a large slice through two of the complex’s buildings for a public courtyard, displaying several full-height schist walls.

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At the third and fourth floor, two bridges cross the courtyard to connect the interior spaces on either side. A meandering exterior steel staircase, supported from the schist walls, provides public access to the renovated roof, which now functions as an extension of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The rooftop park is also accessible via an outdoor glass-enclosed elevator.

At the third and fourth floor, two bridges cross the courtyard to connect the interior spaces on either side. A meandering exterior steel staircase, supported from the schist walls, provides public access to the renovated roof, which now functions as an extension of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The rooftop park is also accessible via an outdoor glass-enclosed elevator.

Due to flood concerns, the design team installed a Con Edison vault on the roof, which required supporting a series of 40,000-pound transformers within concrete vaults. The mechanical equipment for the building is confined to an area at the rear of Building 3, allowing much of the existing structure to remain in place.

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