This summer I have been working as an architectural intern at AYON Studio Architecture and Preservation (, a firm that seeks to creatively address a variety of programmatic, aesthetic, contextual, historical, regulatory and sustainability challenges in the built environment. I started working here part-time during the academic year and have switched to full-time for the summer. Angel Ayón, the founder and principal, is an architect and preservationist experienced in his native Havana and New York City, and an alumnus of the Post-Graduate Certificate in Conservation of Historic Buildings & Archaeological Sites from Columbia University. The office is located in Union Square and it’s great to walk to work in the morning.

From the start this past fall, the first project I have been working on is the adaptive re-use of the former Flushing RKO Keith’s Theater. The redevelopment plan consists of almost 300 condominium units, retail space, a community facility, and parking. We are focusing on the lobby and grand foyer, which were designated an interior landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1984. The project will adeptly and adaptively re-use the former theater lobby as the new main entrance to the residential units.

RKO Keith’s Theater: existing condition perspective photograph of the grand foyer space.

The RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Keith’s Theater is one of New York City’s few remaining American movie palaces. Part of the vaudeville circuit founded by B.F. Keith, the theater opened in 1928 and was designed by Thomas Lamb, who was one of the country’s most prolific theater architects proven by the several hundred designs attributed to him. However, the RKO Keith’s is unique amongst his work because it is designed in the atmospheric style, a type of theater design that aimed to produce the illusion of an outdoor open space.  The illusion was created by building up the walls as stage sets showing a Spanish-style townscape in the Churrigueresque style and the ceiling was painted blue and a machine projected “clouds” moving across it. This building technique and special effect culminated in giving the audience the sensation of sitting outside in a Spanish town on a warm evening.

RKO Keith’s Theater: West Elevation of the Ticket Lobby drawing

My role has consisted of drafting the spaces, doing field-work, and coordinating with other members of the team, including the lighting designers, materials and fabrics conservators. Although it was freezing in the winter, literally sheets of ice in the lobby, the field-work has been a memorable and exciting experience. Twenty years of vacancy has given the theater a mysterious, lost treasure quality to which Angel references as Indiana Jones style preservation.  We have documented everything from the entire interior elevation of the grand foyer to detail drawings of the display cases of the ticket lobby. Construction is planned to begin later this year and be completed in 2017.

Another project I have been working on is glazed enclosures research for the Fitch Mid-Career Grant awarded to Angel by the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation. This research project is focused on several case studies that exhibit a wide range of intervention approaches on steel-frame glazed assemblies on Modern American and European buildings that have been retrofitted within the last ten years. The case studies include buildings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Oriel Chambers (1864), the Bauhaus (1926), and the Farnsworth House (1951). I have frequently visited Avery Library to cull out periodicals in order to obtain original drawings and photographs of the buildings. We are fascinated by the similarities between projects built in Europe and America at the same time. Investigating the travel habits of seminal architects, such as Walter Gropius, have led us to question who really influenced who.

Comparison of detail drawings of existing condition versus replacement from Architects' Journal
S.R. Crown Hall: Comparison of detail drawings of original design versus replacement from Architects’ Journal

This past week, I have been working on a new project: the interior renovation of 560 State Street Apartment 10A. When I visited the site to conduct field measurements, I looked at the address and realized it looked familiar. Then I recalled the lyric “Took it to my stash spot, 560 State St.” in the famous anthem to the greatness of New York City “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys. Preservationists joke about the “George Washington slept here” instantaneous significance, but was I standing in hallowed grounds of hip-hop? After critical inquiry, it turns out Jay Z is referring to the same building; however, he lived in Apartment 10C, not 10A. Nevertheless, it was an honor to walk the same circulation routes as him.

Existing First Floor Plan
560 State Street: Existing First Floor Plan drawing

We are in the Schematic Design phase of the project, having presented four alternative schemes to the client. The goal is to renovate the bathroom, kitchen, and create a second bedroom for when his family visits. This project is on a tight budget and timeline and I look forward to it being completed by the end of the summer. Of course I’ll send Jay Z the finished photographs.

I have truly enjoyed working here and I am thankful for the efforts of Trisha Logan to put me in contact with Angel when I first arrived at Columbia last year. Thank you to Angel for giving me the opportunity to engage my passion for preservation architecture in the real world. Your patience, guidance, and instruction has taught me countless things about the profession. Finally, I have had the pleasure of working alongside Sarah White-Ayón and the frequent visits of their animated two year old daughter, Pilar.