About Facade


The redesigned 450 West 33rd Street in the Manhattan West development.
Courtesy Brookfield

On Monday, a year after officially breaking ground on the Manhattan West megaproject in the Hudson Yards District, developer Brookfield Properties revealed new details about extensive renovations that will reshape Davis Brody Bond’s 16-story 450 West 33rd Street tower. Brooklyn-based REX has designed a new lobby and a pleated glass facade to rebrand the Brutalist structure as Five Manhattan West, a hub for creative and tech businesses flocking to the area. “It’s going to become an important lynchpin for our entire project,” said Dennis Friedrich, CEO of Brookfield. With its 100,000-square-foot floor plates—the building is one of only eight buildings in Manhattan that make such a claim—“There’s a very strong appeal for creative, tech, and media tenants interested in the space.”

The pleated curtain wall system will provide floor-to-ceiling windows on the building’s interior.
Courtesy Brookfield

While the majority Manhattan West is new construction—a pair of office towers and a residential building by SOM and two acres of landscape by James Corner Field Operations built over a rail yard servicing Penn Station—the 1.8-million-square-foot behemoth, 450 West 33rd, will remain in place.

Joshua Prince-Ramus, principal at REX, praised Brookfield for taking the sustainable approach to renovating the building instead of building anew. “This idea of renovating existing infrastructure is incredibly important. Architects and urbanists can only control around 45 percent of world greenhouse gases—the rest has to do with transportation and deforestation,” he said at the event. “We should be focusing on density.” He said building was aesthetically “neutered,” by previous renovations and has taken on an unfortunate moniker, the Tyrell Building, a reference to the dystopian headquarters seen in the film Blade Runner.

Left to right: The original facade; A subsequent renovation painted the infill panels black; a rendering of REX’s new facade.
Courtesy REX
Diagram showing floor area lost with existing facade due to modern building codes; the downfalls of a ziggurat configuration; and REX’s pleated plan.
Courtesy REX

REX’s new facade is a formal response to pragmatic challenges at the site. Originally built as a warehouse over the rail yard, the pyramid-shaped structure boasts 14-foot-tall ceilings, but day lighting was not a concern. New building codes dictating accessibility required ample headroom at the slanting walls. Prince-Ramus said his system of floor-to-ceiling tapering glass pleats maximizes interior space while addressing energy efficiency issues. The curtain wall’s under-slung surfaces are self-shaded from the sun, reducing solar glare and heat gain while creating a more transparent, lively façade from street level.

Prince-Ramus compared the new façade to a Fresnel lens, common in lighthouse lamps that scatters light, and called the new building “a beacon for the city.”

Manhattan West site plan showing Five Manattan West on the left.
Courtesy Brookfield

The unconventional arrangement presented its own critical challenge: how to clean the glass. REX designed an integrated track that allows window-washing carts to zigzag up and down the building. “We didn’t set out to create the coolest window washing gig in Manhattan, but it’s certainly playing out that way,” quipped Friedrich.

Adding to the complexity, the entire façade will be rebuilt while the building is occupied. Prince-Ramus said a new temporary perimeter wall guarding interior spaces from weather and construction will be built first. Then the building’s non-structural precast concrete elements will be removed and new structural façade supports installed that can accept the glass pleats.

Sections showing the tapering glass pleats of REX’s facade design.
Courtesy REX
Renderings of the new facade at the lobby level, mid-way up the facade; and at the top of the building where the pleats turn vertical.
Courtesy REX

Manhattan West broke ground in January 2013, and has since made significant progress constructing a platform to enclose the existing rail yard. A large horizontal crane was built on site to accommodate the platform construction. Friedrich said the first row of platforms—built of individual concrete pieces in a segmental precast bridge system—were installed over the tracks a few weeks ago and the entire platform will he complete by the end of the year.

The existing lobby (left) and the planned modernization (right).
Courtesy REX

Meanwhile, Keith O’Connor, principal at Field Operations, provided an update of the landscape plan for the site. A series of outdoor rooms will divide the larger landscape into a more intimate environment. Spaces include an “entry plaza” along 9th Avenue with built-in benches and large shade trees, an “art plaza” with terraced open spaces for monumental art, a “garden landscape” over the tracks with lush plantings and small seating areas, a “bamboo grove” bridging over Dyer Avenue, a “magnolia grove,” and an exterior passageway cut through the southern section of Five Manhattan West leading to the High Line.

The $200 million redo of Five Manhattan West is REX’s first major project in New York City and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2016.

Related Stories