New York City may be dominated by its big name art museums, but in the East Village neighbourhood, a beloved non-profit dedicated to contemporary art is currently the talk of the town. Since its founding in 1986, the Swiss Institute has been a nomadic entity – occupying a variety of spaces in downtown Manhattan that were leased temporarily. This month, the institution moves into its first adult home – a some-700 sq m former bank building on St. Marks Place that’s been designed by Selldorf Architects.

Originally built in 1954 by the architecture firm Alfred Hopkins & Associates, the Swiss Institute’s new home is an accessible and inviting space that has been designed to the institutions specifications and also in direct dialogue with its artists. Spread over four floors, the versatile space is comprised of galleries for both exhibitions and public programming, a library, a bookstore operated by the non-profit organisation Printed Matter – dedicated to artists’ books – as well as a rooftop terrace and garden. Flexible and welcoming, thanks to its open floor plans, the design of the new space makes nod to the institute’s diverse and innovative approach.

To maintain a connection to the building’s former life, Selldorf Architects restored its distinctive façade, which pairs cream-coloured brick with a black granite base, limestone surrounds and pressed aluminum spandrels. The ground floor of the Swiss Institute, which formerly housed bank teller stations, a private staircase and a secure vault, has been completely opened up and installed with a reception area, the bookstore and gallery space. (The bank vault has been transformed into an intimate gallery.) With soaring 5.18m ceilings, the expansive space also allows the institute to accommodate larger artworks.

Another of the building’s notable features is the new steel and concrete staircase that features glass frontage and leads up to the second floor, where a multi-use space, art storage, the library and the restrooms are contained.

All this can’t compete with the building’s new roof though, which has been reinforced to support new art installations and foot traffic. Punctuated by a trellis that offers shade on the south side, and site-specific installations such as Valentin Carron’s heart-shaped dance floor made from pine logs, and Michael Wang’s aluminum planters that house endangered species of plants, the publicly accessible space won’t be a secret for long. §