New York Academy of Sciences
The academy had occupied a five-story mansion on East 63rd Street in New York City for the past three decades but had outgrown this Upper East Side home; meetings of more than 100 could not be accommodated. The academy's roots were in lower Manhattan, where it was founded on Barclay Street in 1817, so moving back downtown was seen as a return to its birthplace, but not as a return to tradition.
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Shaped for the Future
Occupying a site just north of where the twin towers once stood (and just a few blocks from the academy's first home), the new 52-story 7 World Trade's parallelogram shape gives it a distinctive identity.
The floor plate's shape was a perfect starting point for giving the academy's new 40th floor home a "cutting edge." Aligning with the local street grid, the tower's east and west walls run close to true north/south, while the north and south walls are cranked about 20 degrees off perpendicular to east/west.
Rather than ignore this geometrical anomaly (as the building's core does, with its right-angled walls) Hardy and his collaborators reinforced the skewed geometry throughout the interior. Most of the rooms echo the same parallelogram shape of the building.
Even where there are right-angled spaces (such as staff areas that occupy right-angled cubicles), they play off a nearby skewed wall, which snaps you back to the building's geometry. The result is an interior that gains much dynamism thanks to its constant reference to the street grid, 40 stories below.
Views Interior and Beyond
Public spaces and executive offices occupy the east side of the building, while the west contains more private staff and support areas. There is a large bronze bust of Charles Darwin (an early member) that once graced the academy's garden on 63rd Street, but there end the similarities between its old and new home.
Behind the low, sleek reception desk are white, grille-like walls that allow you to see beyond to the other side of the lobby and its floor-to-ceiling windows to views east of the city, with the Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert in the distance.
The white screen walls actually replicate the street grid of lower Manhattan in the 19th century, identifying the locations the academy occupied in its early history. The area on the other side of the screen offers visitors places to sit and take in the view.
The architects located several large meeting spaces, ranging in capacity to up to 300, close to the lobby. The largest, in the plan's northeast corner, has glass walls that permit views of the city to be part of the space. Partitions can be moved to expand this auditorium.
Right next to this space is a womb-like meeting room with curved walls, completely enclosed, which accommodates up to 80 people. There is also a board room with expansive views over the World Trade Center site and the Statue of Liberty farther south.
Science and Art
The interior design strategy is to maximize light and views in the largest meeting room and the board room, while using a dash of bold color in all three. Bright red carpeting with a double-helix DNA design woven throughout further brightens all three meeting spaces.
In the more private staff areas, colors and graphics with a "pop art" accent dominate. Bodacious, colorful stripes on the carpet zip through these offices. Along one long wall are vibrantly hued, eye-catching blow-ups of flowers.
On another wall are digitally printed renditions of old paintings with scientific themes, which appear stretched out when you view them straight on, but snap into focus when you view them from an oblique angle as you move through the corridor.
The spaces display a great mixture of scientific history and optics — further evidence that this interior is perfectly tuned to the New York Academy of Sciences, with its distinguished history and bright future.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Hartford, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.