After the Flood

Photography by Mike Rapp and Eric Laignel

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012, the most visible damage in the New York area was the destruction of homes and other structures along the New Jersey and New York coasts. In lower Manhattan, though, weeks after the storm, damage was not as easily recognizable with the naked eye from the street. But flood destruction was pervasive and far-reaching within numerous structures on the ground floor and lower levels. That was true in the office towers at 85 Broad Street and 55 Water Street, where more than five feet of water in both locations, a block apart, completely devastated cafeterias. New York firm Mancini Duffy redesigned each cafeteria for a new era of food service and client expectations.

85 Broad Street

Sandy’s flood waters completely filled the lower level cafeteria, floor to ceiling, at 85 Broad Street, located just three blocks south of the New York Stock Exchange. The 1.1 million-square-foot office tower at 85 Broad Street, owned by MetLife, is home to Contract magazine’s editorial office—Emerald Expositions, the parent company of Contract, has a floor. Other tenants include Nielsen and Oppenheimer, and WeWork just signed a lease for six floors.

One month prior to the hurricane, Mancini Duffy completed a small refresh of the cafeteria that was subsequently ravaged. With the client relationship in place, Mancini Duffy was asked to return to completely redesign the lower level, and make it an amenity space to attract new tenants. The firm had previous experience in the design of large-scale cafeterias, including those for NBC at Rockefeller Center, New York University, and the University of Rochester.

At 85 Broad Street, tenants descend to the redesigned cafeteria where they see the word “Cafe” on the wall adjacent to a casual seating area. Lighting set within the wall creates a sense of transparency. In the food service areas, multiple food stations are behind curving stainless steel counters. Here, and in the seating areas, a reflective metal covering the low ceiling makes the space seem taller. Fritted glass mirror walls cover structural elements.

Alan Dandron, design principal at Mancini Duffy, says, “The biggest challenge was creating an inviting destination in a below-grade environment with no access to natural light. Our team employed a variety of strategies to address this, including the selection of a reflective metal ceiling and the use of fritted glass mirrors, which make the space feel bigger and brighter. Instead of enclosing the core areas with a standard corridor, we designed a serpentine wall screen to open up the space while still providing separation for circulation.” Fins in the wall screen are fiberboard panels with a high-gloss lacquer finish.

In the dining areas, a variety of seating options are available for those eating lunch or having an impromptu meeting, including high tables, wood chairs, banquette seating, as well as upholstered seats at two centrally located long tables clad in stone veneer.

Off the main dining area is a more enclosed space, allowing for a warm setting without a cafeteria feel. Overall, a limited color palette­—white tile floors, walnut veneer walls, black tables, and accents of gray—was designed for longevity, allowing the interior to not age with color trends. Conference rooms in the back of the cafeteria are an added, new amenity for the building’s tenants.

85 Broad Street Cafeteria
Architect: Mancini Duffy
Client: 85 Broad Street LLC
Where: New York
What: 20,400 square feet on one floor
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request


55 Water Street

Just steps from 85 Broad Street, the 54-story 55 Water Street tower has the largest office space floor area in New York—3.8 million square feet. Owned by Retirement Systems of Alabama, which administers Alabama’s public pension funds, the tower is home to tenants including Standard & Poors and Emblem Health. The lobby-level cafeteria at 55 Water Street, which Mancini Duffy designed in 2004, was breached by at least five feet of water during the hurricane.

Mancini Duffy returned to redesign the space, now renamed Café 55, in a $9 million transformation for the operator Masterpiece Caterers. Here, it was a chance to rethink food service for the building. The 2004 configuration—a food court with interspersed seating— was no longer relevant as the cafeteria is now available only to tenants.

Tenants enter through a new coffee bar that has tile floors, a stamped tin ceiling, marble table tops, bistro chairs, and zinc counters to appear like an Italian cafe. Wooden shelves and Edison light bulbs add to the ambience of the cafe, which is square in plan, to make it feel anything but corporate.

The food service area features a large hot buffet, salad bar, and other food stations. Mosaic tiles on walls wrapping to the ceiling behind the servery add a calming, tactile aspect to a space with stainless steel and granite counters. A light fixture with frosted acrylic fins over the central food service area is designed to mimic the flow of water. Similar to the cafeteria at 85 Broad Street, a polished, mirror-finished ceiling tile makes this space feel larger. Multiple dining areas have a variety of types of seating, and the large dining space can be reconfigured and rented for company events. In both cafeterias, Mancini Duffy took the opportunity to reconsider the interiors as spaces for not only meals and coffee, but also as large-group gathering and amenity spaces for corporate clientele.

Café 55 at 55 Water Street
Architect: Mancini Duffy
Client: New Water Street Corporation
Where: New York
What: 15,000 square feet on one floor
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request

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