Seamen's Church Institute

8822 Seamens Church Hero

Seamen's Church Institute

The design for this mixed-use headquarters for an ecumenical advocacy organization establishes a dynamic tension between the explicit application of nautical forms and materials, a rigorous, abstract design sensibility and the preservation of historic fabric.

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This was a rare opportunity to express the institute’s imagery in a modern vocabulary within the context of Manhattan’s oldest commercial district.

Richard Olcott, Design Partner
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Founded in 1834 by the Episcopal Church, Seamen’s Church Institute provides for the personal and professional well-being of merchant mariners. The design affirms the nautical sensibility of the client and the South Street Seaport Historic District, completes the street wall and anchors the block.

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The new building incorporates the restored façade of an eighteenth-century mercantile structure and extends its proportional system and materials across the first four floors. The six-story structure, which houses the administrative, educational, legal and spiritual functions of the non-profit organization, is organized in plan and section to reflect programmatic and institutional synergies.

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Metaphorically, the new building’s sectional parti can be compared to a steel ship moored at a brick pier. The new brick façade,  which continues the plane of the chandlery’s street wall, acts as a landlocked foil to the dynamism of the two-story, shiplike setback that emerges above, its white enamel panels acting as a modernizing force in the design.

Throughout the building, the institute’s commitment to seafarers and seafaring is reinforced by custom-design furnishings and fittings as well as materials and a color palette that allude to shipboard life.


New York, NY
32,000 GSF
Offices, Galleries for the Extensive Collection of Nautical Artifacts, Navigation Training Facility, Activity Spaces, Meeting Rooms, Legal Services, Ecumenical Chapel


Design Partners
James S. Polshek, Richard Olcott
Management Partner
Timothy Hartung
Project Manager
Sara Caples
Project Architect
Peter Talbot
Job Captain
James Sinks
Charmian Place
Design Team
Marla Appelbaum, Jihyon Kim, Thomas Koloski, Kevin McClurkan, Ron Milewicz, Shawn Rickenbacker


  • 1993
    • AIA National Honor Award for Architecture, 1993
  • 1991
    • Award for Excellence in Design, AIA/New York State, 1991
    • Certificate of Merit, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Awards, 1991
    • Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1991
    • Best of Design: 1991, Time Magazine
  • 1993
    • Award for Excellence in Religious Architecture, Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, 1993
    • Citation, International Association of Lighting Designers, 1993
    • IFRAA International Architectural Design Award, Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, 1993
  • 1992
    • Albert S. Bard Award of Merit in Architecture and Urban Design, The City Club of New York, 1992
    • Lumen Citation, The New York Section of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 1992
  • 1991
    • Award for Distinguished Architecture, AIA/New York Chapter, 1991


  • 1993
    • Forgey, Benjamin. "The Beauties of Conventional Wisdom" (The Washington Post, 1/30/1993)
  • 1992
    • "Best of 1991 Design " (Time, 1/6/1992)
  • 1991
    • Bergdoll, Barry. "Sailors' Delight" (Architecture, 11/1991)
    • Dunlap, David W. "Hidden Corners of Lower Manhattan" (The New York Times, 9/15/1991)
    • Louie, Elaine. "With Light From Above" (The New York Times, 8/1/1991)
    • Shepard, Richard F. "Ahoy, Mates, the Institute's Back at the Seaport" (The New York Times, 5/6/1991)
  • 1989
    • Dunlap, David W. "Wave of Growth Planned at South Street Seaport" (The New York Times, 1/19/1989)
  • 1988
    • "Home port" (New York Daily News, 11/4/1988)
    • Dunlap, David W . "Seamen Institute Finds a Haven In Water Street" (The New York Times, 10/31/1988)
    • Young, Joyce. "Down to the sea again" (New York Daily News, 11/3/1988)


Altieri Sebor Wieber LLC Consulting Engineers
Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design, Inc.
H Plus Incorporated
Shen Milsom & Wilke
Specifications Associates
Code/Life Safety
Construction Consulting Associates
Cost Estimating
Federman Design & Construction Consultants
Food Service
Romano Gatland
Jenkins & Huntington, Inc.
Construction Manager
Sciame Construction, LLC
Jeff Goldberg/Esto