Depending on whom you talk to about one of the newest crown jewel buildings of New York City’s “NoMad” neighborhood, the label is either “The Prism Tower” or sometimes “the fortress of glassitude”. What everyone agrees upon, however, is that the 40-story building is nothing short of spectacular and an ocean away from ordinary.
Not unlike another New York landmark, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 400 Park Avenue South disrupts the urban pack with an unexpected, and exceptionally beautiful, sweet surprise: a tall, rock candyesque crystalline edifice of glass rising up from the ground. Legendary French architect Atelier Christian de Portzamparc began designing the building in 2003, and the end product, administered by Handel Architects, remained virtually unchanged. Like many projects in the middle of the decade, the $400 million was slowed by the economic times and eventually purchased by Equity Residential and Toll Brothers City Living in 2011. The majority of the construction, overseen by Lend Lease, began in 2013 and is now completed.
It’s obvious where the tower got its name. Besides the obvious “prism” shape, the multi-faceted design floods light into the unique floor layouts while optimizing views to the streets below. This provides an interesting perspective, while taking into account the necessary zoning recesses towards Park Avenue South. The Prism Tower is a glass phoenix rising from traditional square apartment buildings. It’s this geometry that breaks the phalanx of typical apartment buildings along the avenue. Everyone involved at the onset of the project knew that the complexity and proper balance of technology, performance, value, and beauty in a custom unitized glass enclosure system could only be handled by the region’s leading union glazing contractor, W&W Glass.
In true irony, the aesthetic appeal of the building also represented its major obstacle. On the physics and technology side, this structure is a unique curtain wall design that breaks away from the usual and expected “square box” neighboring buildings. While it might appear that is was a relatively simple glass wall design, several facades of the building have an inclination angle between 10 degrees up to 60 degrees. That was just from the outside. Inside, this project features a completely custom unitized curtain wall system from Sotawall®. Rather than stepping back the mass to comply with zoning laws intended to bring light down to the street, the design simply inclined the leading edges of the prisms to open a path of travel for sunlight. Instead of using terraced setbacks to respond to code, the design uses fragmented and angled façades. There were many in and out angles, degrees of splay, and glass shapes that had to be accommodated on all sides of the facade using custom extrusion dies and silicone gaskets. These help to keep the system fully air and water-tight while allowing the signature crystalline shape from de Portzamparc’s vision to be achieved.
Not all glass is created equal. The Prism Tower required more than six different types of glass, many with custom gradient silk-screened frit patterns, to clad the building. It was imperative to work very closely with the glass fabricator Viracon to execute the project. Additionally, at the “pod” areas above the Park Avenue South entrance, there are complex intersections of six inclined walls and several architectonic details. Those details were primarily located at terraces and soffit conditions in addition to the integration of oversized operable vents into the curtain wall.
There were also logistical hurdles that needed to be overcame for this 40-story icon due to it being a mixed-use property. The first 18 floors house 265 commercial tenants while the other 22 stories are residential. Add in some first floor retail space and a new subway entrance out front to this combination, and another level of complexity regarding budget, coordination, and scheduling arose.
Any construction project, especially one that is creating over 435,000-square feet of commercial and residential space is a massive feat. Construction as an industry evolves extremely slowly. The Prism Tower is unique. It makes the dramatic leap forward in design, raising the bar on visual appeal.
Cost: $400 million
Article courtesy of W&W Glass, LLC
W&W Glass, LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry. The company is one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems including, stick built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar™ structural glass facades and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W consistently is the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.