Most of New York City is well aware of yesterday’s death-defying stunts at the New York Times Building, where two climbers scaled the facade of Renzo Piano’s latticework tower before being taken into police custody on the roof. When asked about the paper’s plans to climb-proof the building (and its now tantalizingly ladder-like ceramic rods), a spokesperson for the New York Times Company replied that “design modifications are under consideration.” With that in mind, AN asked some of the city’s most inventive architectural minds how they might tackle this urgent design challenge.
The obvious person to address the tower’s dangers was the Genoan master himself, Piano, as well as his executive architects FXFowle. Both declined comment, as well as numerous other architects unwilling to criticize a comrade’s work.
For those who did speak up, however, the suggestions could not have been more inspired. The most common refrain? Let the climbers have their way. Channeling Louis Kahn, Markus Dochantschi, principal of studioMDA, said, “Climbing is what the facade wants to encourage, so I think the Times should provide lots of harnesses so that more people can climb up safely.”
Ada Tolla, a principal of LOT-EK, took the idea one step further. The firm would establish one day out of the month when the public would be invited to scale the structure, turning the Times’ potential disaster to its own advantage. In the interest of public safety, Tolla added, trampolines could be placed around the base of the building. “If somebody falls, they could just bounce back,” she said, “rather than break their heads.” (Surprisingly for the firm, there was no mention of shipping containers.)
Joshua Prince-Ramus, founder of REX Architecture, wondered whether the Times or building co-owner Forest City Ratner were even liable for others’ foolish actions. “Why do they care?” he said. “Someone falling off your balustrade is very different than someone actively climbing your building.” And while he did not personally endorse the idea, Prince-Ramus did point out that carabiners had been installed at his Seattle Public Library—designed while he was still a member of Office for Metropolitan Architecture—so rock climbers could do the window washing, not to mention saving $1.5 million on the project’s bottom line.
As an attractive, low-impact solution, the paper could consider climber-deterrent shrubs or vines, said Florian Idenburg, an architect with Brooklyn-based firm SO-IL. “There’s a thorny rose which I suggest you would grow along the whole bottom of the building, between the rods,” he said. “If you would want to climb up, you have to work your way through this dense growth of roses.”
Idenburg did not have a species ready to hand, but AN’s horticultural experts suggest the notoriously tenacious Rosa multiflora, known for its impenetrable thickets and wide tolerance for varied light conditions. (Idenburg might want to take his own advice, though, given that the New Museum he helped design while with SANAA is equally climbable, even if it does lack the views of its crosstown sibling.)
In a variation on this theme, Gregg Pasquarelli, one of the principals of SHoP Architects, suggested blades. "Big, sharp blades," he said. "Like on a guillotine."
The most practical solution may have come from the current director of OMA’s New York office, Shohei Shigematsu. “I think I have an answer,” Shigematsu said. “They should build a canopy on some level, on the third or fourth floor.” He said this would also help provide protection from falling ice, a problem the building experienced last year.
Might you, dear reader, have a better idea? Fire away.