Green Roses for a Gray Lady
Event: Keeping Up with the Times: The Architecture and Interior Design of the New Eco-smart New York Times Building
Location: Architects & Designers Building, 10.02.07
Speakers: Rocco Giannetti, AIA — Principal & Interior Project Manager, Gensler; Daniel Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP — Senior Principal, FXFowle Architects; David A. Thurm — Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer, New York Times
Moderator: Susan S. Szenasy — Editor-in-Chief, Metropolis
There’s a lot to celebrate about the New York Times Building — the city’s first skyscraper to be announced after 9/11, recalled Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis, a welcome sign of impending recovery. As the newspaper-of-record’s headquarters and as a leading testbed for green technologies, it carries an inescapably high profile. Some grousing can be expected — this is a workplace of high-profile journalists, after all, moving from dingy digs into a building that literalizes organizational transparency — but the pluses outweigh the minuses decisively.
“We set a challenge for ourselves,” said Times spokesperson David Thurm: “On time [and] on budget wasn’t good enough… we really had to stretch; this building had to fundamentally change the way we do our business.” Times officials were extremely hands-on clients, according to Thurm.
Prototyping and testing phases included the construction of a mockup building at the paper’s printing plant in College Point, Queens, to study lighting and thermal variables and test various systems. The choice of material for the screen of glazed ceramic rods resulted from observations of a heat-tolerant conveyor belt in Leipzig. Innovations like these, Thurm says, occurred in part because “as autodidacts, we didn’t know better.” The pervasive brightness, vast floor plates, prominent perimeter staircases, individually-controlled underfloor ventilation, and 40% energy cogeneration fosters workers’ comfort and collaboration while conserving institutional and planetary resources.
Discussing relevant precedents in floorplate design, Daniel Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP, senior principal at FXFowle Architects, pointed out that large-plate, center-core American offices favor organizational goals at the expense of human priorities, while the European approach exemplified by Foster + Partners’ Deutsche Bank building favors personal comfort over departmental communications. The optimal marriage of the two traditions, FXFowle Architects and Renzo Piano Building Workshop found, was the local NYC loft, and the Times building strives for loftlike openness within the high-rise shell. Rocco Giannetti, AIA, principal and interior project manager at Gensler, described how the interior architecture “dematerializes,” bringing light deep into the workspaces and creating vertical and horizontal grading effects.
Some editors have objected to the building, claiming that the glass-walled offices reduce privacy. The emphasis on transparency, Thurm allowed, overrules such considerations. Other complaints have more to do with general journalistic-office evolution: to old-school writers who find typewriter clatter a soothing bed of white noise, a digitized environment will never seem like home. The most serious challenge was about how thoroughly the Times embraces sustainable practices. As valuable as the individual features are, the question of integration elicited only partial answers.
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