The Prism Tower: The Shining Crown Jewel on Park Avenue

The Prism Tower: The Shining Crown Jewel on Park Avenue

Depending on whom you talk to about the newest crown jewel building 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 new 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.

 

Read Architect Magazine’s Project Profile  

 

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.

 

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.

 

W&W maintains a full time estimating and engineering department ready to provide an engineered solution to your building enclosure needs.

What is a Facade Retrofit?

Building facades don’t always age gracefully. Over the years cracks can appear in concrete, leaks can arise due to damaged silicone joints and glazing gaskets, metals rust, and building maintenance can become much more expensive due to rising operating costs and poor energy efficiency of outdated systems. More often than not, some of this energy inefficiency can be attributed to old non-thermally broken steel or aluminum curtain wall systems. The same can be said for older glazing that may be monolithic or insulating glass without high performance low-e coatings. If these aren’t enough reasons for building owners to consider their options of facade replacement or complete demolition and building new, there is also the pressure to try to attract new tenants or to increase rent by modernization of an antiquated looking exterior (in addition to adding amenities and interior upgrades) to meet current design trends and client needs. If the rest of the project’s structure is sound and intact, it may be a prime candidate for a facade retrofit. In this blog, we will look at the reasons to consider a retrofit for office buildings and the process behind it.

 

 
 
330 Madison Ave. before the façade retrofit.
 
There are a few main reasons why a building might benefit from a facade retrofit. These retrofits can provide new life to a building as shown in the before and after photos of 330 Madison Avenue. In most cases, fixing the current facade is not an option. The systems are obsolete and beyond repair. The building may have air and moisture leakage issues and may not have acceptable thermal or acoustical performance that meets today’s standards. This could cost more money in operating/maintenance costs to the owner and tenants. A reclad will not only fix these problems, but also allow the building to still be fully operational with minimal disruption to tenants. This ensures that the owner can still keep the space occupied, bringing in revenue while the update is taking place, without having to shut down for a long period of time. 
 
 

 
 
Left: 330 Madison Ave. façade retrofit in progress. Right: Completion of the retrofit.
 
 
Full building demolition can be costly and very difficult with larger buildings in major cities. The demolition process can be slow and potentially dangerous when dismantling the entire structure in a tight lot. Also, the timeline to build new can be two to four years from concept design until the new project is complete for occupancy. This means that the owner can’t make income from the property for a long time. Recladding can be a great alternative solution.

 

Sometimes an older building just needs a new look in order to attract new clients or catch up with the times. Retrofitting allows old projects to look brand new to attract higher-paying tenants willing to sign a long-term lease. Our work at 100 Park Avenue in New York City is a great example of a commercial building reclad that used a high performance unitized curtain wall system to do just that.

 

 

 

 

Facade retrofits allow for a wide range of materials and visual design language to be incorporated into the new exterior enclosure. Many times, owners or development teams are required to file for a zoning variance to allow for the new façade to encroach further out over the property line. This variance can be helpful in the creation of a more prominent, deep facade or due to the fact that the old facade may need to remain in place during the installation of the new building skin over top. The unitized curtain walls installed during the reclad can often include infills such as terracotta, stone, custom insulated panels, or metal plate in various finishes to completely change the look of the building. 

 

Architectural designs for facade retrofits are developed based on the premise of fitting new high performance curtain wall and window systems within existing building conditions. Sometimes old architectural and structural drawings aren’t always accurate, so some demolition probes are done to find the exact locations of main structural components. Retrofits require close coordination between the design team and the glazing subcontractor to make sure the system can be installed and sufficiently anchored off the current structure.     

 

Unitized curtain wall system panels for the reclad will include fire-rated spandrel or shadow box assemblies. Panels are shop fabricated to control quality and expedite installation time on site. Meanwhile, holes are demoed back to structure through the current façade for new anchors to be attached. The building will then be reclad top to bottom or bottom to top depending on the installation sequence required for the panels.

 
 
 
 
Once the building reclad is weathertight, the interior demolition can begin. In this stage, the contractor either takes out vision area glazing and curtain wall or puts in new operable windows depending on the type of system. Fire safing of areas at each slab level must be put in between the systems, and interior closure metal may be installed to cover the space between the old and new facade head and sill at each floor slab.

Again, all of this demolition and installation can often be completed while the building is still fully or partially occupied. The goal is to be as accommodating as possible to limit disruption during normal working hours of the current tenants. This often means most of the work is done during the early morning or at night.

 

It’s also important to understand the logistics and structural design tolerances of a facade reclad on a project to project basis. For example, a site like 655 Madison Avenue may be more difficult to work on if there are other buildings and roads within close proximity. They can make it difficult for deliveries to be made and material to be staged for installation. Accommodating higher live load slab deflections can also be problematic depending on when the building was designed due to the added weight of another facade on the columns and beams.

 

Facade retrofits are a great choice for projects that need renovation due to energy performance or simply need a new look to draw in new businesses. They are an efficient solution that can keep your building operational and can make your building look great without the expenditures of complete demolition and reconstruction. If you think your next project could be a facade retrofit, feel free to contact us and we’d be glad to help you out! 

 

NEW FAÇADE RETROFIT PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT!

 

Recently, W&W Glass was awarded the reclad/repositioning of the iconic Time-Life Building at 1271 Avenue of the Americas at Rockefeller Center by Turner Construction Company. The 48-story building, previously designed by Harrison, Abramovitz, & Harris, was built in 1959. World-renowned architect Pei Cobb Freed is the design architect for this complete renovation. World-renowned architect Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is the design architect for this complete renovation.

 

Our installation scope will include 430,000 square foot of Sotawall® unitized curtain wall, Erie Architectural Products Enviro/Facades™ custom-fabricated storefront systems and new all glass entrances. More info is to come, so please stay tuned for future updates.

 

 
 
 
 
W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, 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 is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

What is HYBRID-WALL®?

If you’ve been following our blogs and other social media outlets, you may recognize the product name “HYBRID-WALL®.” In fact, you may have heard it quite a bit. Sotawall® HYBRID-WALL®  unitized curtain walls are a common product that W&W Glass utilizes on many of our projects in New York City and the surrounding boroughs.


As a refresher, a unitized curtain wall is a system that is composed of large pre-manufactured insulating glass units/infill panels that are glazed within a pre-assembled aluminum frame in a factory and then sent via truck to the construction site for installation. It is a great way to produce very high quality, repetitious panels for mid to high-rise projects that require fast building enclosure with extremely limited site layout space for erection. You may recognize some of our projects that utilize Sota’s unitized curtain walls such as 100 Park Avenue and 2628 Broadway in New York City.

 

 
 

Our exclusive partnership for the New York City area with Sotawall® allows us to design truly unique structures that meet the strictest requirements and specifications. Opening in 1989, Sotawall Inc. has over 25 years of experience in the pre-glazed, unitized curtain wall fabrication business. Their systems provide enclosure solutions to some of the most high-profile architectural designs in the market today.


Their proprietary HYBRID-WALL® systems can be utilized on new construction projects and building reclads. These curtain walls span slab to slab (connected at top or bottom) with a built-in slab edge cover panel, but are fully gasketed more like traditional unitized curtain wall in order to have a continuous air and water barrier. These perform much better than window wall system alternatives that only span in between floors and drain out at each floor level with a separate slab edge cover panel requiring critical seal areas at the head and sill without the same levels of redundancy. Many building consultants would agree that a system like HYBRID-WALL®, that has integrated vision and spandrel materials combined inside a single unitized panel, is a preferred choice over window wall and slab edge cover systems.

 
 
 
 

This alternative to window wall systems allows for more unique applications, thanks to its flexibility in design that allows larger expanses of glazing and flush external appearances. Each system meets high performance requirements for high-rise buildings, including meeting specifications for static air and water infiltration, dynamic water resistance, structural performance, and thermal performance. Additionally, Sota unitized HYBRID-WALL® systems can accommodate various infills such as terracotta, limestone, travertine or aluminum ranging in thickness from ⅛ inch to 1 ¾ inch.


Sotawall® recently launched a new website that directly showcases their fabrication and assembly plants, as well as highlights their strategic partners, including: W&W Glass, LLC, Karas & Karas Glass Company Inc., Haley-Greer, Inc., Union County Plate Glass, Architectural Wall Systems, and Alberta Glass. We are also proud to be prominently featured in some of their recent literature, including the work we’ve done for MiMA Tower at 440 West 42nd Street and The Lucida at 1269 Lexington Avenue. Make sure to check out their new website and keep an eye out for our projects!

 
 
 
 
W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, 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 is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

The Latest Trends in Unitized Curtain Walls

The commercial glass and glazing industry is constantly evolving, and different trends are always entering the marketplace. Here, we’ll talk about some of the latest trends in unitized curtain walls.

 

One current trend is focused on the integration of multiple “infill” materials glazed directly into unitized curtain panels. Infill materials can be any material that is inserted into the curtain wall panel between extruded aluminum support mullions. Traditionally, they have typically been vision glass and spandrel glass (back-painted glazing with fire-resistant insulation materials behind that is located in front of floor slabs) to give the building a homogenous, fully-glazed “all glass box” look, but recently some other facade materials have been coming more into fashion like stone, metal, and terracotta.

 
 

 
 

Stone infills can be used for a unique flavor and design. Thin-cut stone panels are inserted within the same areas glass ones would normally go. The integration of this material not only offers a seamless look, but also a single source responsibility for a weather barrier within the same system, thereby limiting possibilities of leaks between trade areas. Some new stone materials being used are arriscraft, granite, marble, travertine, and limestone.

 

Another infill we have seen a rise in popularity with over the years is the use of metal panels. Metal panels can have various material compositions like aluminum plate, aluminum composite panel, stainless steel, copper, and zinc. They also create unique design feature opportunities through fabulous finishes, textures, and shapes available. Some of these options include: high or low visual reflectance of different materials, weathering of copper and zinc, brake formed shape designs of aluminum plate, and the full palette of flat or exotic metallic paint color finishes for aluminum panels available.

 

Terracotta Infills have also found a unique niche as an infill panel. These panels are light-weight and can create an interesting texture or rhythm to the façade. They are available in an array of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes.

 

Sloping and undulating facades have become very en vogue on many high-end facades to set them apart from the traditional glass box shaped towers. The visual perception from the outside can be considered nothing less than a work of art.

 

 
 

Twin-skin or double-skin facades, a facade concept quite commonplace in Europe over the past decade due to the high cost of energy, have also been gaining more popularity in North America with the advent of the green building movement and higher LEED Certification goals for building sustainability. These building envelopes are bespoke systems built with an interior and exterior facade constructed in a way in which air is allowed to flow through the intermediate cavity. In cool climates the solar gain within this cavity can be used to offset heating requirements while in hotter climates, it can be used to decrease the cooling load making these systems functional and very visually distinctive.

 

Building in a sunny area? Custom sunshades are a great functional option. The design resources with these are truly limitless and give a very distinctive look to your building. Choosing automated sunshades, which is a modern feature, allows these shades to automatically move in order to afford shading and glare protection in specific areas of the building. Add sunshade louvers for an attractive look to your building that can be enjoyed from the inside and out. Some examples of sunshades are aluminum extrusion shapes, terracotta baguettes, mesh screening, formed mesh panels, formed metal panels, and glass louver blades.

 

Are you considering a unitized curtain wall as part of your next project? Contact us today to speak with a professional!

 

W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, 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 is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

Should I Use a Unitized Curtain Wall or Stick-Built System?

Curtain walls can be defined as non-structural aluminum-framed walls, containing infills of glass, thin stone, or metal panels that are connected back to the building structure. There are two main categories of curtain walls: unitized curtain walls and stick-built systems. So how do you know which one is right for your building? 

 

 

Unitized curtain systems are composed of large glass units that are created and glazed within a factory and then sent to the construction site. Once on site, the units can then be hoisted onto anchors connected to the building. High quality, due to tight tolerances of fabrication in a climate-controlled environment, is only one hallmark of this type of system. Since there is no on-site glazing, another major benefit of using a unitized system is the speed of installation. The system can be installed in a third of the time of a stick-built system. This system is well suited for cases where there is a large volume of prefabricated unitized panels required, where there are higher field labor costs (thereby shifting the labor to a more cost-effective factory work force), where higher performance is needed (for wind loads, air/moisture protection, seismic/blast performance), for taller structures, and more regular conditions for panel optimization.

 

 

If your project doesn’t suit most of the criteria for a unitized system, your other option is to use a stick-built system. The vast majority of low to mid-rise curtain walls are installed in this way. Long pieces of aluminum (hence the name stick) are inserted between floors vertically and horizontally between vertical members to support and transfer the load of the glass back to structure. Most of the erection and glazing for a stick-built system is done on site. One of the benefits of stick-built systems is its economic friendliness for facades that have lower required volumes and many complicated conditions. The lead times for these types of systems are often much shorter for fabricated materials to be delivered to the site and allow for less up front staging. This is shorter in comparison to a unitized system, where six months to a year can be required for this process. However, the trade-off is that the installation takes longer to complete on-site. You also need a significant amount of space for installation and storage of material on the site, which can be difficult in many high-traffic cities with tight job sites.

 

Do you have questions regarding which type of system to use? Contact us today to speak with a professional!

 

W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, 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.

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