July 28 (Bloomberg) –
The cocked-hat silhouette of Bank of America Corp.’s new Manhattan skyscraper pokes a few stories higher than its Times Square neighbors, a testament to the aspirations of the Charlotte, North Carolina, bank when the design was unveiled in 2004.
The building was touted as costing $1 billion in 2004, and the bank has declined to update the figure. After the 64 percent slump in the bank’s shares since September, this glinting bundle of shards, nearing completion across from Bryant Park, could be considered a monument to bonus-coddled, overindulgent, corporate excess — if it weren’t so dumpy. Worse, it’s gracelessly, earnestly green.
The Durst Organization, a developer, had over decades painstakingly assembled one of the largest sites to be found in Midtown. It took a state urban-development agency’s threat of eminent domain — the government’s right to seize private property — to complete acquisition of the full 2 acres. The site included Henry Miller’s Theater, a small Broadway playhouse that hosted both “Our Town” and “Urinetown,” which Durst pledged to replace while retaining its 1918 facade.
The bank joined Durst as a co-owner because the site permitted a tall, thick tower, with lower floors accommodating highly desirable trading floors, one 80,000 square feet. Many of the bank’s floors (it occupies 1.6 million of the building’s 2.4 million square feet) are as large as those found in the destroyed World Trade Center.
Architecture firm Cook & Fox, following a fast-fading fashion for crystalline forms, assembled faceted shafts, which are intended to visually slim large floors and take advantage of diagonal city vistas and views of Bryant Park.
The 54-story result is among the most ungainly forms on the skyline, like a matron who swathes herself in thick layers of fabric in a vain attempt to slim her burgeoning silhouette. The tower climaxes with a spire as impressive as an auto antenna.
Cook & Fox touts One Bryant Park as “the world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise office building.”
This is an overstatement. Around the world, eco-buildings have moved far beyond this design. Still, Durst has a reputation as a green-building leader because its U.S. competition is so timid. Dan Tishman, chairman and chief executive officer of Tishman Construction Corp., spelled out why on a recent walkthrough.
“America lags because we live in an energy-subsidized economy,” he said.
The key green advances are a co-generation plant that is especially useful in summer, when it reduces demand from the most polluting power plants. The building ventilates through the floor rather than the ceiling, decreasing power use while offering each occupant control over his own thermal comfort.
The air is filtered of dust and harmful gasses to a much higher degree than in most existing buildings. The bank said it expects measurable increases in productivity and employee satisfaction from the improved air quality.
Because the windows are made of an especially clear glass, called low-iron, the deep floors are bathed in daylight, allowing sensors to dim electric bulbs. The light and views are a joy compared with the cave-like interiors of most towers.
Though bands of white ceramic dots fused onto the glass are designed to cut unwanted sun, a bank official said the company had regretted not investing in shades that would automatically lower when the sun beats in.
Assuming the rest of One Bryant Park’s green measures work better, such above-and-beyond commitment may pay off, since harvesting water from bathroom sinks and improving air quality may soon be mandated.
I wish Cook & Fox could package green more appealingly. On the exterior the alternating bands of clear and white glass create a nervous moire.
The clumsy gigantism of the tower overwhelms the neo- Georgian delicacy of the retained facade of Henry Miller’s Theater. Behind the entrance, Cook & Fox dropped the new 1,055- seat theater one level below the street to allow bank trading floors to run unimpeded overhead. Seating and other accommodations — especially women’s bathrooms — are generous, but murky colors deflate anticipation. Contemporary fussiness in details fights with archeological sanctimony. Bits of the old theater are mounted like museum exhibits.
Pity the resident Roundabout Theatre Company which must breathe life into this mausoleum with “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening in September.
At the planning stage, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden wisely insisted that Cook & Fox include some nice street- level amenities, like an “urban garden room” that will feature plantings sculpted in the style of “Edward Scissorhands,” generous sidewalks, and new subway entrances. Like the rest of the design, these bits seem added on rather than integrated into the whole.
Combining soaring form, welcome urbanity and green innovation is certainly challenging, but good intentions are ill-served by such feeble expression.
(James S. Russell is Bloomberg’s U.S. architecture critic. The opinions expressed are his own.)