Stair of the Week: New York Times Building Sunscreen

Well, strictly speaking, it should titled "ladder of the week." It's the bris-soleil system on the face of the New York Times, being climbed by "Spiderman" Alain Robert "as a peaceful way to create support for far greater and urgent action from world leaders on global warming. Emissions are still climbing. So am I."

The climb wasn't much of a challenge; a copycat followed him two hours later. I for one wish he had picked another building; the grid of ceramic rods is there for environmental reasons, and cut down the heating load from the sun by 30% and the total energy bill by 13%.

When Vice President David Thurm gave me a tour of the building last month, we discussed the merits of the screen. They wanted a transparent building, but also wanted innovative energy-saving features. The screen, made of 1-5/8 inch diameter ceramic rods, is open at the vision level, and tightens up near the floor and ceiling. The rods reflect light in different directions, bouncing a lot of it up towards the white ceilings and further into the interior of the space. They call it "dynamic daylighting." Combined with automated blinds, they keep the glare down and maximize the daylighting of the space. The light fixtures are all individually controlled to adjust to dim when the natural daylight is high.

Suzanne Stephens writes in the Architectural Record "Right now, the fine proportions of the ceramic-rod screens make them read as corrugated gray panels from afar, except under certain sun conditions. Bigger and bolder rods would have appeared more legible, but would have impeded views out for those inside. Definitely, the rods should have been whiter, a perception that Piano, in retrospect, admits. So far, pollution hasn’t turned them even grayer; according to [architect] Fowle, the rods’ hard brittle surfaces are self-cleaning."

I thought the screen was an elegant and creative way for the New York Times to make a graphic expression of environmental concern by wrapping its building in an exterior sunshade like this. Alain Robert may claim to have climbed it for environmental causes, but in fact he has done the environment a huge disservice- it will be a long time before architects put exterior shades on buildings again. Thanks for nothing, Alain.

Read more on daylighting at ::New York Times

Tags: Architects

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