Second Acts for Modern Buildings

Second Acts for Modern Buildings

Facades usually expire long before the structural systems they enclose. One answer to this dissonant fact is recladding, which can be a cost-effective means to extend the lives of buildings, while improving their performance and even changing their use. The following three projects exemplify this practice.


The General Services Administration (GSA) recently hired Chicago-based 4240 Architecture to renovate State Street South, a former department store in the Chicago Loop Retail Historic district that the government transformed into office space in the 1980s. The project is part of the GSA’s ongoing effort to bring federal workplaces up to contemporary standards of design and sustainability. As part of an overall upgrade, which included new interiors, high-efficiency HVAC systems, and carbon dioxide sensors, 4240 replaced the structure’s aging facades on State Street and Jackson Boulevard with a high-performance glass curtain wall.

“A big part of the project was the use of light, to the point where we talked about it as a material,” said 4240 design director Robert Benson. “We took a previously opaque project and made it some- thing that people want to go to work in every day.”


The design of the curtain wall maximizes the penetration of natural light into the interior while employing several measures to mitigate heat gain and glare. The unitized, structurally-glazed system is made up of an extruded aluminum mullion frame outfitted with insulated glass units (IGUs). Both vision and spandrel panels are transparent, revealing the white-painted slab edge from the exterior and allowing more daylight to pour inside. The low-iron, low-e-coated IGUs feature a half-inch airspace made with stainless steel spacers, which is filled with inert argon gas, increasing their insulation value. The architects also treated the glass with a white ceramic frit pattern that references a sculpture on the building’s west face by Sol LeWitt, titled Lines in Four Directions. An automatic shading system rounds out the facade’s sustainability strategy, which increased the building’s energy efficiency by 36 percent.

4240 also applied a glass curtain wall to the elevation of the building above a new entry on Quincy Court. “We were able to control the proportion and the quality of the architecture to a much greater degree than if we had just clad the opening,” Benson said. The Quincy facade features a fold made from angled two-planed glass, aligned to the centerline of LeWitt’s sculpture. The glass contains tiny lines of text written in ceramic frit that are legible from inside the building. The bits of prose were extracted from The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

In addition to optimizing daylight and thermal performance, the new facade opens the interior to the architectural marvels that surround the site. Views to the west reveal the juxtaposition of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Dirksen Federal Building and proto- skyscraper the Monadnock Building. That almost 360 degrees feeling of connection, said project architect Noah Luken, opens up the project to a broader urban experience.

Chris Bentley is AN’s Associate Midwest Editor.


When architect James Ingo Freed first dreamed up his design of New York City’s Javits Convention Center, he imagined a pellucid glass box that would flood the soaring Crystal Palace lobby and expansive concourse with streaming natural light and, from the exterior, reveal the graceful trelliswork of a space frame structure. Unfortunately, his vision was to remain a dream. The glass technology of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the building was constructed, wasn’t up to the task of providing both transparency and insulation. The heat loading that would have come with such a design threatened to overpower the HVAC system. So Freed compromised. He kept the glass box, treating it with a dark grey tint and bronze reflective coating. The strategy kept things relatively cool inside, but stymied his ambitions for a translucent architectural expression and brilliantly sunlit interior.

In 2006, the Empire State Development Corporation decided it was time to give the Javits a facelift. The agency hired architecture firms FX Fowle and Epstein Global to over- haul the aging convention center and bring its systems into the 21st century while improving energy efficiency by 26 percent. The team’s strategy included updating the HVAC and electric lighting systems, adding a green roof, and removing the structure’s decaying envelope, replacing it with a modern, high- performance system capable of fulfilling Freed’s dreams of a transparent facade.


The switch to more translucent glass did raise a particular concern, however. “In the original design glass covers the whole building uniformly, the black-box convention halls as well as the day-lit lobby and concourse,” said Bruce Fowle, a senior partner at FXFowle. “That wasn’t going to work. If we kept it all glass it was going to read differently form opaque to transparent. We thought it needed something different. So where the opaque portions are we’ve introduced stainless steel panels.”

The original facade was based on a 10-foot-square module that corresponds to the space frame structure. In the recladding, the architects played on the horizontality of the convention center’s long, opaque facades by designing 10-foot-wide-by-5-foot-high stainless steel panels. Most of the panels were treated with a No. 4 brushed finish, though some were given additional patterning: 2-FL, which introduces horizontal ribs, and 6-ON, which adds golf ball–like dimples. The tricked-out panels were interwoven with the plain to help make the transition from glass to stain- less and to create some visual interest across the facade.

The team also made slight changes to the design of the glass panels, removing the vertical mullion that had divided the original into 5-foot-sqare panes. This allowed more daylight into the interior and matched the dimensions of the stainless steel panels. The modules are outfitted with Viracon IGUs treated with a hybrid of traditional low-emissivity coatings and low-reflectivity coatings that mitigate solar heat gain, cut down on reflectance, and produce a neutral color. The IGUs are made up of a 3/8-inch outer lite, a 1/2-inch air space, and a 1/4-inch inner light, and are structurally glazed into a partially thermally broken frame of 4 1⁄4-inch deep aluminum mullions. The architects applied a range from 28 percent frit to 48 percent frit to the glass to control the amount of natural light entering particular portions of the building.

In the original design, Freed had painted the space frame structure dark brown because it blended with the tinted glass. “We painted it light medium grey,” said Fowle. “It really freshens up the interior environment and fits with the more transparent, lighter glass. It’s really quite striking.”

Aaron Seward is AN’s Managing Editor.


When New York University (NYU) engaged Mitchell | Giurgola to design a new headquarters for its School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) at 7 E. 12th Street, its priorities included literal and metaphoric transparency, opening up the activities of this prominent division to the community. NYU took over the 1948- vintage Fairchild Publications building by Harrison & Abramovitz in 1992, using it largely for administrative functions before repurposing it as the SCPS flagship and reopening it in November 2011. Gut renovation was necessary: the building’s interior atmosphere needed an energy-performance upgrade and a general atmospheric rethink. According to Mitchell | Giurgola partner Carol Loewenson, existing conditions included a “foreboding facade” with strip fenestration and dark marble detailing, along with a rabbit-warren interior, short on daylight. Now, with a new curtain wall, a spacious double-height lobby, and assorted solar-control features that are both functional and visually sporty, the SCPS building presents a cheerful face to both the street and the students inside.


On a tight 10,000-square-foot floorplate, the new design welcomes daylight by expanding the original windows from a narrower condition, with 2-foot-high sills and drop ceilings, to full- height glazing. The architects programmed the front-most spaces on upper floors for public circulation and casual seating, not private offices, with interior glazing still allowing sunlight into conference rooms or offices set back behind the halls. A three-story staircase, another signature feature, invites daylight into all three classroom floors (basement through second).

The building’s first nine stories are flush with its neighbors along the street wall, while floors 10 through 12 set back 10 feet. The architects incorporated asymmetries in the new wall that transform the original somber grid into a more expressive and varied facade. Vertical anodized-aluminum fins appear at irregular intervals. Scattered among these fins are seven vertical strips of dichroic glass that pick up different hues—blues, yellows, and greens along with NYU purple—as solar intensities and viewing angles change. “Looking around the Village,” Dietz said, “the neighborhood is full of whimsy. We didn’t want the building to be so insistent and taut. Adding this kind of vertical element felt right for the scale.”


Another asymmetrical detail is the angular canopy of trapezoidal glass panels. Reinforced with protected steel, the canopy was prefabricated and brought in for installation as a single element. The prefab approach allowed precise tolerances unaffected by temperature or other site variables.

The curtain wall is a custom unitized aluminum system with 4-foot-wide panels of laminated, Viracon low-E- coated, low-iron glass. The glass is clear on the lowest two floors, with 30 percent ceramic fritting on upper floors, creating a soft white veil. Panel heights vary with floor heights, from just over 10 feet on the first and second floorsto111⁄2feetto121⁄2 feet on the third and above. Mullions are uncapped painted aluminum, 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep, with fritted spandrel-glass borders to soften edges. Outboard horizontal louvers of painted aluminum hang perpendicularly at each story in rows of four, adding depth and complicating the shadows and light reaching the south- facing wall. These extend, Dietz said, “as far as the DOT would let us.” Narrow brick segments left and right of the curtain wall, with operable aluminum-framed punch windows in the right segment, modulate the contrast with neighboring masonry buildings.

Bill Millard is a regular contributor to AN.