Inspired by Manhattanhenge, Scalar Architects transforms aging Kips Bay building with a sparkling facade

Big Triangulation

Inspired by Manhattanhenge, Scalar Architects transforms aging Kips Bay building with a sparkling facade

The new metal panel facade was inspired by the Manhattanhenge phenomenon. (Miguel de Guzman @ Imagen Subliminal)
Taking the name of the solar phenomenon ‘Manhattanhenge’, Scalar Architecture’s recently completed facade intervention in Kips Bay brings a dynamic relationship between facade and sunlight to a 20th-century building. The brick and cast-iron building—originally completed in 1915—is home to The Nuthouse, a beloved 24-hour neighborhood hardware store. After falling into disrepair, Scalar Architecture needed to address not only facade maintenance, but sought to maximize the potential of sunlight on a narrow Manhattan street.
The building was completed following a 12-year-long process, which initially included an all-glass facade. Working with the client—who wanted “more local control to experiment with construction materials and techniques”—Scalar Architecture sought to establish a geometrically unique facade. As Scalar Architecture principal Julio Salcedo explained, “the facade orientation facing North, North East along its commercial use were key determinants in the design impetus to facilitate oblique relationships to the street and solar azimuth.”
Elevation photo of a glass and metal facade
The panels were mechanically fastened to the cast iron, circumventing the need for welding, for which the cast iron is not well suited. (Miguel de Guzman @ Imagen Subliminal)

Challenges came in designing an envelope around the building’s original cast-iron columns. The design team started with a fiberglass substructure, which significantly limited thermal bridging and could be attached to cast iron with mechanical fasteners. This structure was filled with dense insulation and holds the PVC multi-glazed window wall with a Ug of 0.3 W/(m2K). The windows were installed to be operable, providing ventilation during most of the year.

close up of metal and glass facade
High-performing glass windows are also operable, providing natural ventilation. (Miguel de Guzman @ Imagen Subliminal)

When it came to panel selection, careful consideration had to be given to the amount of weight put on the existing cast iron and brick. Molded fiberglass and concrete fiber panels posed challenges to this, and as Salcedo said, “the choice of fenestration further determined the finish and color.  The composite metal panels provided an integral finish both reflective and durable.” The composite metal panels that were ultimately selected were lighter, could be fabricated locally, and included a high proportion of recycled material.

Diagram of facade components
Component parts of the facade highlight the finished product’s geometric complexity. (Courtesy of Scalar Architecture)

Working with B&B Sheet Metal, Scalar Architecture developed mock-ups and full-scale models of the metal panels. The design team “focused on the volumetric intent of the design,” said Salcedo, working through multiple iterations of panels. Digitally cut, the panels were grooved on their backside in order to accommodate folds. The folding provided the rigidity needed for thin metal, bridged connections to the existing building, and created the unique geometry that allowed for the interplay between sunlight and the facade that Scalar Architecture desired. 

New metal panel facade on an old building
(Miguel de Guzman @ Imagen Subliminal)