The Gray Lady's Digs, Drab No More

The Gray Lady's Digs, Drab No More

It’s noteworthy that the New York Times Company is building a gleaming new headquarters, finally abandoning its nondescript rabbit warren on 43rd Street. But even more important is what the paper is putting into its portion of the building. After rigorous planning and testinggincluding the famed 4,500 square-foot full-scale mock-up built in a parking lot at the Times’ Queens printing facilityythe architecture and construction teams have devised a range of cutting-edge design elements that make the building one of the most technologically progressive in the country. Because the headquarters includes almost no back-office operations and is thus for editorial and higher-level business staff, a premium was placed on innovation. What’s more, much of the original impetus for the innovations came from the newspaper itself, which pushed the architects and engineers to develop new solutions. It’s the most unusual project in New York, or even the U.S., in that that the client is the one dictating the innovation in the building, not just the architect,, said Paul Muldoon, senior vice president of AMEC, the lead construction firm on the project. Here are some of the building’s most notable design elements:

The facade is lit by Erco lighting system, with lights installed at various floor levels, giving the building the appearance of being lit from the ground up. This gradation system means that the 250- watt lights consume only 25 percent of the energy normally required for a building this size.


Renzo Piano’s design makes transparency a signature theme of the building, and he decided on low-iron, floor-to-ceiling Star Fire glass windows as part of it. But that meant heavy glare and high heat transference. The problem was partially solved by running 170,000 aluminum silica rods (Piano calls them baguettess) 1.5 feet outside the windows, which reduces the amount of light entering the building and directs light deeper into the interior.

The Times took things one step further by entering a partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, a leader in lighting studies, to evaluate and select a dynamic lighting and daylight harvesting system. Having already decided to build the Queens mock-up to study interior architecture possibilities, the project was easily expanded to include a lighting element. Over a 12-month period, the mock-up, which received grant money from both the states of California and New York as well as the Department of Energy, found that automated shadessthe bid for which was won by MechoShade and its AAC SolarTrac systemmcould significantly reduce glare and heat, and thus energy consumption. The philosophy is to maximize natural light coming in, maximize the connection to the outdoors, maximize the view, but not cross over into glare,, said Glenn Hughes, director of construction and real estate for the Times. The shades are programmed to know the position of the sun at any time on any day, as well as the shadow footprints of surrounding buildings. Cloud cover is measured by radiometers on the building’s mast. The system can run automatically but the Times insisted that employees be able to override the shade settings easily. If someone wants to bring in more light, they may bring the shades up or down,, said Jan Berman, president of MechoShade. There are color touch screens, with a little footprint map that shows where the motors are.. Based on data culled from the mockup, the Times expects a 35-percent energy savings from the shading system alone.


The Times realized early on that a dimmable interior lighting system could also significantly reduce energy consumption. Through extensive testing at the building’s mock-up, the company developed a set of specs and decided on Lutron to supply the lighting. Only 2 percent of all office space in the United States is dimmable but the Times wanted to take things a step further, to have a system that would respond to incoming daylight and adjust itself automatically. Daylighting as a control strategy is a big part of the system,, said Pekka Hakkarainen, vice president of technology and research at Lutron. As sunlight enters the space, we had a requirement to dim the electric lighting so that the desk illumination is within the target settings in any given department on any given floor.. Like the shades, the lights can also be controlled locally. (The image at right shows that zones are dimmed as the level of natural light changes.)

A stumbling block for the newspaper was the high cost of the dimmable ballasts, the devices that control the flow of electricity into the fluorescent lights. Because so few were in use at the time, the initial price per ballast was between $75 and $120. But by ordering a very large amount and arguing that the building would help revolutionize the market for such ballasts, the newspaper managed to bring the price down to between $30 and $755an achievement that may enable dimmable lighting to become a standard part of the American office environment.


Virtually every office building in the United States is equipped with ceiling HVAC systems. But once again, the Times decided to be different and placed the air conditioning in the floorran idea borrowed from European office buildings, where natural ventilation is more commonly accepted. Having already gone with a plenum floor plan in order to better run computer cables, the project designers realized that they could achieve remarkable energy efficiencies by piping cold air through the floor (a system by Tate Access) as well. Hughes explained, The supply air is coming through diffusers in floor, and it picks up heat as it rises.. This is more efficient than dropping it from overhead ducts, which require lower temperatures in order to fully circulate the air. We’re going to use 63 degrees Fahrenheit supply air; with an overhead duct, we would need 55 degrees. That means we’re not using the chiller as much,, Hughes added.

Moreover, because the system does not require ducts, it means that diffusers can be placed wherever needed, not just where there is a duct. The diffusers are then covered with a specially designed carpet piece which has miniscule holes in it for the air. When you look at the floor the [carpet pieces] look identical, but if you held one to a light source, you would see pinholes,, said Rocco Giannetti, senior associate for Gensler, the project’s interior architect.


Given the nature of a newsroom, the ability for the staff to circulate easily through the workspace is vital. The designers didn’t have to go far for their inspiration: the New York loft. The idea was to create a modern loft of the 21st century, with big open plates and flexible space,, said Serge Drouin, an architect with Renzo Piano Building Workshop. It’s a very New York fixture.. Thus in designing the building’s interior spaces, 90 percent of the area was kept to an open plan, with the few permanently enclosed offices located toward the center of the building. The rest of the space can either be filled with cubicles or floor-to-ceiling partitions. The building is on a 5-foot planning module grid, and we used that in developing an entirely flexible planning system,, said Giannetti. Light fixtures and other ceiling elements are organized in a system that allows partition placement at 30 inches..

Another innovative aspect of the open-plan scheme are two sets of stairs running on opposite sides of the building, just behind the curtain wall. That way employees can move between floors without having to use the elevator, enjoying stunning views of Midtown. Painted red, they are also highly visible from the outside, again highlighting the building’s transparency theme. One obvious constraint, of course, was safety: Stairways running directly through the open floors could allow smoke to move easily from floor to floor in the event of a fire. We had to make sure that smoke would not spread,, said Drouin. In response, every other floor has fire shutters that close and contain smoke. If a fire breaks out, the shutters roll across the top of the stairs, closing them off.


Because a national newspaper can’t stop for things like power failures, the Times required that its new building come with a backup power system capable of running its vital newsroom functions. We need to have a certain amount of emergency generation to run the paper regardless of the electricity situation,, said Hussain Ali Khan, vice president for real estate development at the Times. That’s about 15 percent of the total building load,, said Hughes. But the costs involved in maintaining such a system just for emergencies was beyond even the Newspaper of Record’s budget. The solution? A co-generation plant, running continuously on natural gas and completely isolated from the city power grid. The plant’s two engines generate 1.4 megawatts continually. We can provide enough power for data center operations: We can cool the data center and can run all of the newsroom, so people can continue to work regardless of ConEd’s status or the New England grid,, Hughes said.