Renzo Piano's New York Times Building
This fairly radical development is easy to overlook. Designed by Renzo Piano and his Building Workshop in association with FXFOWLE Architects, the tower is fairly compressed on its site and soon to be surrounded with new tall buildings to the west and north. It's hard to take in at close range. But it is the light-filled space within — particularly the lobby, the central courtyard, and the newspaper's floors — that make the Times Building different from any other skyscraper in Gotham.
Why a new building? Aren't newspapers in free-fall, going out of business? This building is a real estate investment on the newspaper's part, a joint development venture with Forest City Ratner Companies, which owns 42 percent of it. The Times occupies floors two through 27, and their development partner rents out the rest, save for floors 28, 51, and the lobby space, which are co-owned.
The newspaper did not move far. It's just a block away from the eponymous Times Square — site of the newspaper's original 1904 building, from which drops the ball on New Year's Eve — and a few blocks away from the large, nondescript building that the Times occupied from 1913 onward — "a creaky and tired building," as described by Times vice president and chief information officer David Thurm.
Besides being a nightmare to retrofit for digital information, the 1913 building had an opacity that didn't fit the newspaper's view of itself as an open, transparent operation. Thurm says that staff members were disconnected from each other and from the city. The goal of the new building was to bring them together.
The success of that achievement is obvious from the sidewalk, before you even enter the building. From blocks away, the tower glows with a clarity not present in the city's other skyscrapers, which are often shrouded in metal, stone, or glass that is reflective or tinted.
The Times tower is a fully glass-enclosed building. Its only opaque surfaces are its exposed structure, and the inventive sunscreen that keeps the building from overheating yet allows its clarity to read through. To emphasize transparency, the designers used a low-iron, water-white glass, clear as crystal, without a trace of tint. This essentially brings the inside and outside together. Standing inside at the exterior wall on any floor of the building, you feel you can reach out and touch the city.
At street level, one can literally see through the building from the west, north, and south. The glass walls allow through-block views, into a central courtyard — designed by landscape architecture firm HM White Site Architects, in collaboration with Cornelia Hahn Oberlander — occupied by a moss garden and white birch trees.
This 70-foot (21-meter) cube of space, open to the sky, isn't accessible, but it's like finding a park in the middle of an office building. The sight of it alone has a calming influence. Commercial spaces on either side of the courtyard will soon be occupied by retail tenants who will be required to keep their glass walls uncluttered to preserve views.
But there is more to the lobby than transparency. There is also spaciousness usually not found in New York office buildings.
Typically, elevator cores are placed relatively close together, which tends to give lobbies a dense, dark feel. In planning this tower, FXFOWLE worked out the core so that the elevator banks were pushed apart. Bruce Fowle explains that this allowed a wider central space, which literally beckons you to move east from the front door on 8th Avenue toward the garden.
And you can move, because the elevator banks, with their security checkpoints, are pushed farther north and south. So you glide through the lobby, unchallenged by security, toward the bright marigold-colored Marmarino Venetian plaster walls and the "Moveable Type" art piece that adorns the walls, its tiny screens displaying a changing torrent of words from the newspaper edition in process, the Times archive, and the paper's web site.
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