Coming from a family of building contractors, the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, had a flair for architecture from an early age. He established the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1981 as a start of a small family business that grew exponentially over the years. The Pritzker award winner has designed a hundred buildings or so with a very simple design philosophy which is ultimately uno spazio per la gente, “a space for people.”
Renzo Piano is also known to use technology to build high-tech buildings to create structures that break away from the monotonous designs of buildings in its context and also to reinforce sustainable development. Light is another essential element that the architect uses to its full potential to create transparency and vibrancy to enhance the atmosphere of a space.
In 2000, one of the world’s most well-known newspaper companies, The New York Times, laid out a tender for the construction of their new office which could reflect their work culture and philosophy. Renzo Piano won the tender after competing with other famous architects like Norman Foster and Frank Gehry. The design goals were to make the structure energy-efficient and let lightness and transparency take precedence. The structure was inaugurated in 2007.
Located in the area of Times Square, Manhattan the context is vibrant and bustling with people. The ground level of the 319m tall building is completely open to the public. The 52-story building is covered with a screen of ceramic rods on all 4 sides. The first 28 floors are occupied by the New York Times while the rest of the floors are rented to restaurants and other offices to earn revenue as the upper floors garner higher rent.
The 220m building is crowned with a sleek needle-like steel rod of almost 100m. This addition is one of the spectacles of the structure as it was added to redefine the skyline of New York City.
The whole idea of the structure was to showcase the culture of truth and transparency of the company. Renzo designed the building to create a ‘sense of security using transparency and not opacity’. The ground floor is designed for public use to increase social activities and interaction by connecting all three adjacent streets. The permeable public space is designed to draw in wind and movement along with the people from the streets.
The total floor area is 143,000 m2. The ground floor houses retail stores, restaurants, and high-end supermarkets in the north and south. There is a central courtyard with a green space consisting of seven, 50-foot-tall paper birch trees, fern, moss which are visible from the streets evoking a feeling of transparency. The central courtyard is designed to create a relationship with the nearby Central Park.
Next to the courtyard is a 378-seat auditorium for small plays, lectures, etc. The artwork of Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen is displayed in the ground floor lobby. Towards the east is the service block which does not have any adjacent street making the zoning perfect and complete.
The tall towers are placed at the West to have congestion-free movement. The first 28 floors occupied by the publishing house have newsrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floor which are close to the street level. This was done on purpose to show the mode of communication and accountability in their work environment. The interiors of the office are open and versatile and transformable. There are no corner offices and they have a central working space with circulation all around it making it transformable.
This adaptable design ensures the versatility of the space and hence the upper floors are rented to other firms and restaurants. Another interesting feature of the building is the corner placement of the staircase with glass walls that compliments the façade and shows the lightness of the building.
The façade of the tower is covered by 186,000 carefully patterned ceramic rods on all 4 sides. The double skin curtain wall consists of ceramic rods that extend 300ft above the height of the building towards the needle. This pattern of 5ft tall rods placed at an average of 18inches from the glass wall only breaks free at the eye level of the employees from inside the building providing a view towards the streets. The façade has also proven to be a problem for the owner.
In 2008, Alain Robert tried to climb the building using the ceramic rods as support to protest against the lack of actions being taken towards climate change. Several other cases were reported where people have tried to climb the tower for different reasons.
Steel was chosen over reinforced concrete which prohibited open floor plan as requested by the clients. Steel however fulfilled the design requirements and was also flexible. The construction time was also reduced. The choice of using ceramic tubes and low iron glass was to make the appearance relatable to materials of the earth.
The building is supported by a steel framework that uses 5 levels of 30 inches thick box columns. The columns are placed to hold the wide flange I-beam girders horizontally on both sides and cross-bracing was done to hold the columns and girders together. A 3-inch-thick metal deck is laid on top of the framework where the concrete is poured. A mesh steel web of 2-inch height is placed before the concrete is poured to reinforcement. Once the concrete is hardened there is enough space to accommodate the ventilation system, electrical system, and data system cables are placed.
Below the I-beam girders, a false ceiling is created to make room for the lighting system and the interior ventilation system. Both the components create a double floor system which is repeated on all 52 floors. Steel rods were also used instead of angle beams to reduce the bulkiness to provide a transparent arrangement
The weight of the building is supported by the core. Externally, however, the system of support is different. The exterior box columns have horizontal girders connecting them to the core using aesthetically pleasing knuckle bracings which are reinforced with X bracings which are 4 inches in diameter prestressed steel rods to prevent lateral movement.
The steel connections of the cross-bracing are insulated to maintain thermal comfort. Each façade has a radiometer that measures the amount of sunlight on each side. This is connected to an automatic shutter system where the shutters are adjusted in the interiors depending upon the amount of heat absorbed. The ceramic rods on the façade of the building change color according to the weather conditions to maintain a thermal consistency within the building.
The structures have reduced 72% of lighting energy as claimed by Glenn Hughes, an energy consultant, and Director of Construction for The New York Times Company. 40% energy is provided using the waste heat used for heating and cooling using a type of power generator. The building also has a system of free air cooling.
The high-tech architecture of the building not only provides a stellar addition to the NYC skyline but also meets the demands of the clients and environment. When the function and purpose are fulfilled along with the desires then the architecture can truly leave a mark. The New York Times building has a balance between functionality and creativity and thus, can stand out from the rest.