When SHoP looked around at the city’s best-loved buildings, a common theme was “their shadow, their depth, their solidity”, says Getman. This is what they tried to recreate with the material palette of 111 West 57th Street. “These amazing shear walls gave us some solidity to play with, so we had the opportunity to do another style that wasn’t just glass,” she explains.
The building is very finely tapered – Getman describes is as “feathered” rather than stepped back – which gives it a human scale despite its giant size. Each of these small steps is marked by a solid terracotta pilaster, with a curving bronze filigree stretching between the pilasters to climb the building. The pilasters are made from 23 unique shapes repeating across the façade in an undulating pattern, which creates a pattern of shadows from a distance. The filigree adds a level of detail that only will be revealed as you get closer, as a homage to the rich façades of New York’s classic Art Deco buildings. “We worked hard to find that balance between the ‘handedness’ that you find in the old buildings – so the terracotta has five different glazes to give it a bit more texture – but at the same time, it’s developed using state-of-the-art technology to track the pattern across the façade,” says Getman. The bronze was also left unfinished so that it will age gracefully with the building.
Engineering to Ensure Comfort
Enormous care was taken over the appearance of 111 West 57th Street, and the whole design team had a role to play in ensuring the integrity of these finishes over the life of the building. “The structure itself is able to flex, but other elements would not be as flexible unless we coordinated their design and engineering,” says Cynthia Liu, senior vice president at WSP in New York and project manager for 111 West 57th Street. “We didn’t want to see cracks on plaster, or glass, or leaky windows because the building is moving too much.”