PRINT May 2013


the Judd Foundation’s 101 Spring Street

View of restored fifth floor, 101 Spring Street, New York, 2013. Photo: Josh White. Art: Donald Judd © Judd Foundation/VAGA, NYC; Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/ARS, New York; © Claes Oldenburg; © Lucas Samaras.


FOR MANY YEARS, my only experiences of 101 Spring Street were the glimpses of Donald Judd’s desk and Carl Andre’s 1986 brick work Manifest Destiny that I saw through the ground-floor windows of the building. I was impressed by the constancy of these two objects. Judd’s building was an oasis of tenacious lucidity in the rapidly changing context of SoHo. My first opportunity to enter the building came in 2005, when the Judd Foundation asked me, as an engineer, to think through the technical challenges involved in opening the building to the public. Ironically, given that Judd left the building for Marfa’s vast southwestern landscape, my immediate impression of the interior was of the open expanse Judd created by eliminating all interior divisions of space: The building felt much larger on the inside than seemed possible from the outside. The problem in preparing the building for public occupation was that the artist had removed the walls surrounding the fire stair above the fourth floor, which opened up the inside but was a violation of fire codes. Our challenge, then, was to make the building safe for visitors with minimal changes. I have always been drawn to the possibilities of engineering ephemera, the intangible aspects of space and structure—what Duchamp famously called the infrathin. Our solution, realized with an expert design and construction team, focused on an effective but unobtrusive fire- suppression and smoke-exhaust system in combination with the restoration of the exterior fire escape. While the restoration of 101 Spring Street inevitably changes what has been preserved there since 1994, it still maintains what Benjamin described as the “strange weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance” that characterizes this inimitable place.

Guy Nordenson is a professor of architecture at Princeton University and a partner of the structural-engineering practice Guy Nordenson and Associates.