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NYU Facade, From Concept to Construction

Jeffry Burchard   January 2015

NYU Global Center, from Washington Square Park

Intended to provide a home for the dozens of religious organizations on New York University's downtown Manhattan campus, our design needed to strongly express the spiritual mission of the building without relying on any singular religious iconography. We discovered that the 'tree of life' is a reappearing motif that resonates with nearly all religions and faiths. The image of the tree, with all of its positive connotations (growth, expansive, spreading out of a common roots, natural, provider of shelter, food beauty, etc.) together with the strong western architectural tradition of using ornamental motives based on natural forms, was the conceptual basis for the project facade.

The Tree of Life in Various Religions
Initial Sketches by Jorge Silvetti

The concept was applied to the design of the facade through layers of an organizing grid, global figural intention, ornamental pattern, and window growth. Shifting alignments produce a facade that is a continuous foliage of diverse densities: an abstraction of a growing tree produced through the arrangement of 12 unique panels of perforated stone.

1.Weather enclosure and back-up layer.
2.Organization grid with the profile of a tree.
3.Laminated and perforated quartzite stone.

12 panel types were designed in 4 sets of perforation density , from o to 35% porous, the limit for the quartzite stone. The panels were cross grouped by the geometry of the pattern, ensuring that the "branches" would continue across a minimum of 3 stone panels. The pattern thus produces numerous moments of continuity across the panels. Thick and thin cross-sections of sinuous lines create the illusion of depth.

Left: Typical panel map; Right: Perforation gradation, from 0 to 35%

The panels are a laminated stone product, two 5/8" thick stone slabs are laminated together increasing the strength and break resistance of the panel. If there ever is breakage, the laminated stones acts much like tempered glass. It could shatter but will not crumble.

1.3/8" Perforated quartzite stone Honed finish(perforated after lamination).
2.Laminating resin.
3.3/8" Perforated quartzite stone, honed finish(perforated after lamination).
4.Holes for steel buttons.
5.Steel buttons, embedded in stone.
6.Extruded aluminum brackets.

The laminated and perforated stone panels are applied to a unitized curtain wall system, fabricated by the internationally renowned curtain wall fabricator, Permasteelisa. This system delivers the full weather enclosure in pre-fabricated units to the construction site for quick construction and fewer mistakes.

1.Extruded aluminum curtain-wall mullions.
2.Machined aluminum brackets.
3.Insulated metal in-fill panel.
4.Insulated glazing unit.
5.Laminated and perforated quartzite stone.

The ochre quartzite stone was selected from a quarry in India. It's color and grain was selected because of its contextual similarity to the McKim, Mead, and White designed Judson Church, the neighbor to the East of the new NYU building.

Stone block at the Quarry in India

After quarry, the stone was sent to Pisa, Italy where it was slabbed, sorted, and selected for grain and color variation. The slabs were then laminated and perforated in a Mason's workshop, crated, and sent to the curtain-wall fabrication factory in Montreal, Canada.

Stone slabs and fabrication in Pisa Italy workshop

In Permasteelisa's factory, the various custom components were arrayed in sequence of application. The hangers for the stone panels were integrated into the vertical aluminum extrusions of the curtain wall system, eliminating excessive hardware and bulky connection details.

Materials ready for assembly

A mock-up corner of the facade was tested on the outskirts of Montreal. A turbine jet engine simulated hurricane force winds and wind-driven rain. The results of the test ensured that the installed facade would be weather proof and could structurally withstand extreme lateral forces.

Performance Mock-Up

Finally, the pre-fabricated units were trucked to Manhattan in the middle of night and staged for early morning installation via crane. Installation started at the base of the building and proceeded to the top, with the units slipped in and structurally joined to the adjacent units and the building's superstructure.

Curtain wall hanging

The stone layer, 35% of it perforated and remainder solid, standing 4" off of the surface of the building envelope, is a rain screen. This technology improves the overall moisture control, heat gain, and thermal performance of the building, contributing to the building's LEED Gold rating.

Facade Layers at Dusk
View of Washington Square Park from behind the stone screen
Street Level Facade
NYU Global Center
Concept to Construction
Material Fabrication
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