Helpern Architects


“The 4-star AC Hotel has been an exceptionally exciting project for us,” says Karl A. Lehrke, Helpern Architects principal and vice-president for design. “We are doing the entire design – building and interiors. Plus, this is not an American hotel chain, albeit it’s a Marriott International brand. AC began in Spain; its hotels attract a cosmopolitan, fashion-alert, young clientele, and they feature contemporary art. This one will have a Spanish restaurant whose clear-glass façade has been pulled out from the building wall and pleated so that it embraces the entrance, which makes a lovely plaza that faces the handsome New York Times building.”

It’s therefore not really a surprise that the exciting AC Hotel on West 40th Street is Helpern Architects’ 35th holiday card. It is the sixth card to focus on a building for hospitality, starting with The Penn Club of New York for the University of Pennsylvania [1991] and including the Soho Grand Hotel [1995] and the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites on West 33rd Street [2011].

The 147,000-GSF, 20-story-tall building has 290 well-sized rooms and a top-floor bar and planted terrace for the guests. Rooms on the 18th floor will have their own terrace. Most rooms will have floor-to-ceiling windows. The entrance lobby is 23 feet high with a large, open staircase to the lower level illuminated by a skylight shed roof. Other amenity spaces are meeting facilities, a library, guest laundry, and fitness room. Occupancy will be late 2017.

The Helpern Architects team responsible for the AC Hotel worked closely with owner OTO Development’s New York region-based project managers. Besides Karl as the design leader, there are architectural designers Marian Paredes and Inho Suh and interior designer Alfonsina Romero, with Jason Cosme as project manager. The consultant team totaled 15 firms.

The 8” by 5¾” fold-out card shows only the lower floors of the 20-story building. It has been produced on 120# GPA Matte Cover paper and printed digitally [as opposed to offset printing] for the first time. “This makes the colors more vibrant,” says Helpern Principal Bennet Dunkley, “so we could use a wonderful rendering that captures the excitement of the entry level. Plus, with an eye to sustainability, digital printing gives us a precise count, no wastage.”

Helpern cards often show the masonry of the building represented, and every effort is made to replicate its color. But the AC’s street façade is entirely transparent, clear glass – all the more interesting because the NY Times building right across the street is distinguished by its grillage, whereas the AC is distinguished by its sheer, butt-joint glazing. All-glass walls are a graphic design challenge: what can be shown or reflected, and at what time of day or night, are the kinds of questions that were considered. Red Jar Design is the graphics firm handling this challenge and the change in printing technology.

According to Founding Principal David Paul Helpern, “We’re proud about that our holiday card series has been so popular. We started doing these cards 10 years after we opened for business, so they are by definition a history of the firm’s projects. For the last few years, we’ve been showing restorations and renovations: 212 Fifth Avenue condominiums [2015], Pratt Institute’s Main Building renovation after its major fire [2014], Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library “Nave” [2013], and Ft. Washington Collegiate Church expansion [2012]. It’s important to show that we also design tall new buildings, too. After all, we are based in Manhattan.”

“Helpern Architects is currently tee-ing up a couple of midtown air rights-driven projects. If you have questions about how to scope out midtown zoning parameters for a site you have in mind or a building you own, ask us,” says Bennet.