© Scott Frances
© Scott Frances

J.T. Magen meets the construction challenge of the spiral staircase at Barneys New York Downtown

The white spiral staircase at Barneys New York Downtown has been called “architecturally stunning” by Architectural Digest. It’s become one of New York City’s top Instagram photo backdrops.

But there were significant logistical and installation challenges to overcome before the helix staircase spanning four floors could obtain icon status, according to Harold Khaner, senior project manager for general contractor J.T. Magen & Company Inc.

“The 48-foot-tall spiral stair structure was pre-fabricated in China, and we knew it would be a tricky installation. The logistical steps for shipping, on-site assembly and installation had to be carefully orchestrated to meet the project delivery schedule,” says Khaner. “We didn’t have the time to get the entire staircase fabricated and shipped by boat, and we didn’t have the space to handle the entire unit in one shipment.”

Stepping up with solutions

The answer was to phase the staircase fabrication, shipping and installation in three sections so work could continue, explains Khaner. When the first section was completed, it was shipped by airfreight so the team could get a jumpstart on assembly and installation. The second and third sections were shipped by boat and arrived to the 101 Seventh Avenue site just as the team completed the prior section and was ready for the next.

The fiberglass panels surrounding the metal structure shipped separately, and were applied and joined at the seams as the build phases proceeded. “It was great watching this staircase come to life as the sections were fitted together, the seams and joints were filled, and the final plastering was finished. It was pure relief when it was done,” says Khaner, adding that there were also many Building Department inspections throughout the process.

Photos: J.T. Magen/© Scott Frances

Meeting varied challenges

There were additional challenges for the J.T. Magen team on the Barneys project in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood that included:

  • Gas lines
  • Working in an occupied residential building
  • Noise restrictions
  • Mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues
  • Façade installation
  • Foundation work

“We ran extra teams on nights and weekends, resolving problems as they came up and responding to unforeseen circumstances throughout the project,” says Khaner.

The Barneys New York Downtown project was the most challenging of Khaner’s decades-long career due to the logistical and construction hurdles to resolve. “I’m proud that our team can attain the quality that we do, and in the process build one of the most recognized and acclaimed retail stores in the world,” he adds.

Designed by Steven Harris Architects, Barneys New York Downtown was named Best Retail Store of the Year for 2016 by Interior Design. It won three additional international industry awards, too. The Seventh Avenue flagship is one of four stores completed by J.T. Magen for the luxury retailer in New York and Chicago.