• Property: The Octagon
  • Architect and Developer: Becker + Becker Associates
  • Interior Designer: Rockwell Group
  • Location: Roosevelt Island, N.Y.
  • Renovation Cost: $120 million
  • Length of Renovation: 20 months
  • Scope of Project: Adaptive reuse of a hospital building's remains

No one was more excited to see The Octagon's debut than the 80-plus-year-old alumnae of the Metropolitan Hospital School of Nursing. The 1941 through 1958 graduates recently gathered at the site of their former school in Roosevelt Island, N.Y., to see its transformation into a 500-unit mixed-income rental community. "We have our home back," exclaimed Lilian Kovarik (class of '48) as she saw the newly restored building, which had been reduced to eight single walls after two fires and years of abandonment.

The landmark Octagon Tower has been meticulously restored to its 19th-century glory and is now the centerpiece of a 500-unit residential development. The tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features a recreated "flying" circular staircase.

The landmark Octagon Tower has been meticulously restored to its 19th-century glory and is now the centerpiece of a 500-unit residential development. The tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features a recreated "flying" circular staircase.

Credit: Matt Greenslade/photo-nyc.com

The visit marked the nurses' first time back in decades. Sadly, the former school and hospital had deteriorated over the years. The building first served as the New York Pauper Lunatic Asylum in the 1830s and then as the Metropolitan Hospital beginning in the 1890s (the nursing school opened in 1902). But the hospital closed in the late '50s, and in the late '70s its two wings were demolished (deemed in too bad of shape for repair). All that was left: The eight-sided tower (aptly named the Octagon Tower), which was all but destroyed by two later fires.

"After the first fire, the city got a $1 million grant and made a real effort to keep it [the structure] from deteriorating," says Bruce Becker, president of Fairfield, Conn.-based Becker + Becker Associates, the development and architecture firm which revived the building. "After the second fire, most people felt its days were over." But Becker, who has a passion and talent for historic preservation, wasn't going to let the 19th-century landmark meet such a deadly fate.

Credit: eagle eye photo

In 1997, Becker submitted a redevelopment proposal in an open RFP process. The firm won the RFP but designing a project that satisfied both the city and historic preservationists certainly wasn't easy. Nearly a decade later–after 25 design ideas and 50-plus meetings with local community groups–The Octagon opened in April 2006. The project features the restored tower, which offers a host of residential amenities, plus 400 market-rate units and 100 affordable units built in two new, off-shooting 14-story wings (where the old hospital wings once stood). Rents range from $1,700 for a studio to nearly $3,800 for a three-bedroom unit.