Page E1.2 . 11 August 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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One Bryant Park, New York


The Crystal and the Park

The tower's form and cladding materials were inspired by a landmark that rose across the street more than 150 years ago. Bryant Park was once known as Reservoir Square, and it was here that a group of investors built New York's Crystal Palace in 1853, inspired by Joseph Paxton's London creation a few years earlier. The New York building was touted as a wonder of construction, and even inspired Walt Whitman to write:

Around a palace, loftier, fairer, ampler than any yet,
Earth's modern wonder, history's seven outstripping,
High rising tier on tier with glass and iron facades,
Gladdening the sun and sky, enhued in cheerfulest hues,
Bronze, lilac, robin's-egg, marine and crimson,
Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy banner Freedom,
The banners of the States and flags of every land,
A brood of lofty, fair, but lesser palaces shall cluster.

The Crystal Palace is long gone, but Cook + Fox viewed it as an icon of high-performance building in its own time. In fact, the New York Crystal Palace employed a technique for mitigating solar gain — an early precursor to the glass used in the Bank of America Tower today. Paxton's Crystal Palace in London overheated badly, making it hard to keep cool.

New York improved upon Paxton's design with the use of an enamel coating, applied to the glass by brush and then kiln-fired, which helped cut solar heat gain. The Bank of America Tower uses glass with an applied white frit that does the same thing.

The crystalline bank tower makes a gesture to Bryant Park: the largest, most dramatic chiseled corner addresses the park, and allows office workers in that slice of the building to better appreciate the view. The faceted form grows from a very bulky base, which holds the street edge as a good urban building should. As the tower rises, shards seem to fall from the rectilinear form, creating a sculptural object in the city skyline.

Appel mentions that the Durst family has a large collection of crystals, which somewhat inspired this approach, and the architects also liked the idea of a tower that reflected an organic form. But the crystal also has practical advantages. It opens the sky around the building, helping to maximize the light delivered to interior spaces (and also shedding more light for surrounding buildings).

The chamfers also maximize views of other Manhattan landmarks up and down the island, such as the Empire State Building ten blocks to the south, the Chrysler Building directly east, and Rockefeller Center less than ten blocks to the north.

Bryant Park inspired more than just a formal nod. It is the centerpiece of the tower's public spaces, most spectacularly captured in the gracious lobby, which is one of the most hospitable in New York. The building's main entry is from 42nd Street at the corner with Avenue of the Americas, also known as Sixth Avenue. (I asked whether a diagonal entry wall had been considered to more strongly tie it to the park; Appel said that the idea had been studied, but the designers concluded that an orthogonal building wall at the corner was a better urban gesture — I tend to agree.)

Clear glass surrounds this open lobby, which rises 38 feet (12 meters). Security threats have made many public lobbies far less public, but in this case the elevator core of the building is accessed through scrutiny stations directly adjacent the core, which permits visitors to comfortably explore the lobby's public space.

At the corner of 43rd and stretching about half a block along Avenue of the Americas is a bold public gesture — a 3,500-square-foot (330-square-meter) indoor public park designed, says Appel, as a gift to the city. It counterbalances Bryant Park in the next block, and is filled with plants and light-gauge tables and chairs identical to those in Bryant. Along the street edge are large, two-story rollup doors that allow this public space to be completely open to the street and provide a deeper sidewalk.

The lobby has white granite floors with air-conditioning outlets along the periphery and radiant-floor heating, a Jerusalem stone-clad accent wall stretching along Avenue of the Americas, and a carbonized bamboo ceiling that extends through the curtain wall and hovers 25 feet (7.6 meters) out over the sidewalk, just reaching an adjacent new subway entrance. Inside, a mezzanine level on 42nd Street allows for spectacular views, not only of Bryant Park, but also of the intense life of the city at this busy corner. These public spaces celebrate the building in its urban habitat.

Energy Savings Behind the Scenes

Except for a few obvious gestures, such as the lobby's ceiling of fast-growing bamboo, the building does not wear its environmental credentials on its sleeve. The biggest impact on sustainability is through the building's energy-producing cogeneration plant, energy-conserving HVAC systems, water-conservation strategies, and air purification and distribution systems in the core and shell and tenant spaces.

The bank's tenant areas, which account for approximately 75 percent of the building's occupancy, were designed by Gensler, with sustainability consultant Viridian Energy and Environmental, LLC, which also performed energy analysis of the building's core and shell, along with specifications for the "green" systems. The New York firm e4, inc. managed the overall LEED documentation for the core and shell.

A 4.6-megawatt cogeneration plant — comparable to what one would need to run a decent-sized college campus — provides half of the building's electrical energy, and the heat generated by the plant is recovered to run other building systems. Efficient generation of the building's own electricity through the natural-gas-fueled cogeneration plant is cheaper than buying that electricity from the local utility, and of course reduces the need to purchase energy from it.

Energy conservation is achieved through some highly inventive techniques that help balance the building's heating and cooling so that it runs with optimal efficiency. For example, according to Adrian Tuluca of Viridian, air conditioning is supplied by chillers in a variety of sizes, ranging from 850 to 1,200 tons (770 to 1,100 metric tons).

The staggered sizes allow the building to monitor its AC demands and adjust which chillers are on or off to get the most efficient use out of each one. This means that chillers do not run unless they have to, and they run at peak performance, which has a huge impact on lowering the building's energy consumption for AC.   >>>

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The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park occupies a site immediately adjacent to the northwest corner of the eponymous city park.
Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

The 55-story tower measures 1,200 feet (366 meters) in height, including its 255.5-foot (77.9-meter) spire.
Photo: © David Sundberg/ ESTO Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Bank of America Tower ground-floor plan drawing.
Image: Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

A winter garden is positioned at the building's northwest corner, adjacent to the main lobby.
Photo: © Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image

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Bank of America Tower east-west section drawing looking north.
Image: Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image

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Glass-panel turnstiles control access between the lobby and the elevators at the Bank of America Tower.
Photo: © Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Partial section diagram of a typical floor.
Image: Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image

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A deep overhang, clad in wood, shades the glazed curtain wall of the lobby at the Bank of America Tower.
Photo: © Cook + Fox Architects Extra Large Image


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