The Answer

The Answer

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 highlighted a number of deficiencies in New York’s emergency response system. As part of a broad overhaul of the city’s communications network, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) recently broke ground on a new 911 call center. Designed by SOM and located in the Bronx on a site adjacent to the Hutchinson River Parkway, the Public Safety Answering Center II will provide a robust facility for managing tragedies from small to cataclysmic.

The project arose out of the city’s Emergency Communication Transformation Program, launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006 to centralize and integrate the call-taking and dispatch operations among police, fire, and emergency medical responders.

“One of the things that came out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was a perception that there was a real need to integrate call-taking for fire and police,” explained David Resnick, deputy commissioner of the DDC. “During that event, emergency call-takers were getting many individual phone calls, but were unable to see the bigger picture and understand that this was a categorically bigger emergency than they were used to.”

While the mayor’s initiative includes everything from upgrading radios to reeducating personnel, the new facility was designed as a redundancy to the city’s primary call center, which is just being completed at the MetroTech Center in Brooklyn. The city located the two facilities remotely from each other so that if something were to occur to one that would render it inoperable, the other would be unaffected. During day-to-day operations, however, both centers will work in tandem, with emergency calls being routed to the next available call-taker regardless of location.

In designing the second call center, SOM was faced with the challenge of imbuing the 550,000-square-foot building with humanity and urban sensitivity, a tall order considering the large footprint necessitated by the call floor and the minimal windows dictated by security concerns. To diminish the structure’s mammoth appearance, the designers set the plan at a 45-degree angle to the Hutchinson Parkway and serrated the facade to add dynamism to what otherwise would have been a blank monolith.

The serrations of the skin—a rainscreen system composed of 10-foot, powder-coated aluminum panels—are silver on one side and charcoal gray on the other, giving the building a different aspect depending on one’s viewpoint. The aluminum panels wrap a more robust blast-resistant wall, and all of the building’s windows are made of ballistic glass.

Due to the stressful nature of the call-takers’ job, the designers did all they could to create as pleasant an environment within the center as possible. Part of this involved creating rest areas where staff can collect themselves and recoup. The most adventurous gesture, however, was to bring green walls into the lobby, the largest public space in the building. More than just vertical topiaries, these vegetated walls are tied into the facility’s mechanical systems.

Designed by SOM in conjunction with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology, these phytoremediation walls clean air by drawing it through the plants’ roots and recirculating it through the building, which should help the project attain a LEED Silver certification.

Built by Tishman Construction with structural engineering services from Weidlinger and mechanical engineering services from Jaros, Baum & Bolles, the project is expected to have its core and shell complete by 2013, at which point it will be turned over to a separate contractor to complete the interior fit-out.

In order to meet this aggressive schedule, the agency has set up a dedicated office downtown where all of the team’s players are working together around a single BIM model. “Everyone is in the same place—architects, engineers, clients, construction management,” said Resnick. “If someone has a question, all they have to do is walk across the aisle.”