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New York's proposed Bank of America headqaurters

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Making a mark on Manhattan

Prismatic glass and `green' technology will set off Bank of America's new building

RICHARD MASCHAL

Architecture

Looking to plant its flag in the country's financial capital, Bank of America wanted to make a splash with its new headquarters building in New York.

How to do it?

Good design.

That the bank took that route is no surprise. Under retired CEO Hugh McColl Jr., Bank of America brought better architecture to Charlotte, particularly the 60-story Cesar Pelli tower at Trade and Tryon that is its corporate home. Likewise, the snazzy design for the glass-sheathed, 54-story New York skyscraper, part of a $1 billion project, should make a mark on the Manhattan skyline, day and night.

Moreover, the bank and its development partner, the Durst Organization, decided the building should be "green," on the cutting edge of environmental technology. It will be the first of its size to seek a platinum rating, the highest, from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The architectural firm charged with doing all this -- and restoring a historic theater on the site, besides -- is Cook+Fox Architects of New York, led by partners Rick Cook and Bob Fox.

"(Bank of America CEO) Ken Lewis was very clear," Cook said in a recent telephone interview. "He gave us a great degree of flexibility to come up with a vision, and he wanted a building that would be an icon on the skyline. In that sense, both the Bank of America tower in Charlotte and the Bank of America tower in New York share the spirit of a skyscraper marking a profile on the skyline."

After 9-11, speculation centered on whether the skyscraper was doomed. But the building type that defines our era more than any other continues to flourish, especially in Asia, where in Taiwan, Taipei Tower stands as the world's tallest at 1,667 feet.

In Charlotte, Pelli designed a building with institutional weight, one that was welcoming but also suggested power. To stand out in New York, Cook and Fox had to go in a different direction.

Looking for a peg to hang their design on, the architects drew from the new building's context, both historic and contemporary.

Between 42nd and 43rd streets on Sixth Avenue near Times Square, the building site is next to popular Bryant Park. The park was the site in 1853 of New York's Crystal Palace, built for a world exposition and modeled on the famed building of the same name built by Joseph Paxton in London two years earlier.

They didn't say it, but it's clear the architects looked at another precedent, the 1921 glass skyscraper proposed by Modernist Mies van der Rohe for Berlin.

Without the kind of high-performance glass that will skin the Bank of America tower, Mies' dream could not be built. But the building's translucency and prismatic shape nonetheless influenced tall buildings for generations.

As for its current context, the building's prominent location puts it near, said Cook, "a parade of champions of great urban architecture," such as the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center.

"We wanted the building to look around at its neighbors, at the amazing gaps in the canyons," said Cook.

What look responded to precedents and the clients' desire for a signature building? A faceted shape broken into geometric planes, tapering as it rises and covered with transparent glass.

The architects sum it up in one word: "crystalline."

Green giant

For the future of architecture and the built environment, the "green" aspects of this project likely will be more important than the look.The building will test the latest technologies on a large and visible scale. Also this for-profit project can demonstrate going "green," more than just being feasible, makes economic sense in a competitive market.

Environmental sensitivity came naturally to Cook+Fox. Before Fox became his partner last year, Cook did "green" projects. Fox brought a major credential. He was with Fox & Fowle Architects, the firm that designed 4 Times Square, billed as the first "green" skyscraper, although it did not seek certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"For Bob and I, it seems almost irresponsible not to rethink the way these buildings interact with their environment, how they use water, how they use energy," said Cook.

The architects believe factors such as healthier interior air will help lease the approximately 1 million square feet of space the bank won't be using. That could set an example for private developers.

Most buildings across the country seeking ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council are in the public, not the private, sector. For instance, the one Charlotte building seeking such designation is the children's learning center uptown, a public project.

On top of all this, the bank and the developer asked Cook+Fox to restore the 1918 Henry Miller's Theatre into an up-to-date Broadway house. This again fits Bank of America's pattern of combining culture and commerce, as with the performing arts center and the Pelli tower.

The architects have a full plate, doing a high-profile building that surely will get a lot of attention even before it opens in 2008. But they're pleased.

"There is nothing better for an architect where you are hired by a client who both wants you to do your best work and will allow you to do your best work," said Cook.

Haven't I Seen This Before?

The distinctive new BofA building may appear to be ultracontemporary, but the foundation for this design was laid over the past two centuries.

The Crystal Palace | Built in 1851 for the Great Exposition in London, the palace was designed by Joseph Paxton, a landscape gardener, not an architect. It was made of prefabricated sheets of glass and iron, an early use of standardized building materials. Although not tall, the building covered four times the area of St. Peter's in Rome. It displayed the basics of the skyscraper: a solid frame and light skin.

The Eiffel Tower Standing 984 feet tall, French engineer Gustave Eiffel's 1889 structure was ridiculed as nothing but a frame without a skin, although its lattice iron work was eventually seen as beautiful. But the frame was the point. It showed what heights could be reached by having a frame that carried a building's weight rather than the walls. Eiffel's marvel was four years behind William LeBaron Jenney's 10-story, steel-frame Home Insurance Building in Chicago -- considered the first skyscraper at only 138 feet.

The Glass Skyscraper By the time Mies van der Rohe designed a glass skyscraper in 1921, the building type was well-established. But Mies, the prophet of "Less is more," had the audacity to imagine a tall building made of the most unlikely material -- glass. Since the walls simply hung on the frame ("curtain walls" ), why not make them of this clear material? His building was never built, but it foreshadowed the "glass box" skyscrapers of the '40s and '50s.

Going Green

The plan is to build the new Bank of America building largely of recycled and recyclable materials. Floor-to-ceiling translucent insulating windows will allow daylight to penetrate the interior, saving energy.

It will also have on site a 4.6 megawatt co-generation plant to provide supplemental energy.

The designers say the building will save millions of gallons of water annually through devices such as waterless urinals and a gray-water system to capture and reuse rainwater and wastewater.

One aspect of green design helps explain a curiosity about the building -- its height. With 51 occupied floors and three mechanical floors above, the building will be 945 feet high.

Pelli's tower has 60 stories, but is shorter at 871 feet.

One reason for the disparity is the New York building has several trading floors, each almost twice the typical floor height.

The "green" reason is the building will have an "underfloor displacement air ventilation system," calling for 14 inches between floors and as much as 2 feet between trading floors.

Such ventilation is designed to allow building occupants to adjust the temperature at their work stations. "The number one complaint in every office building in the country is, `I'm too hot' or `I'm too cold,' " said architect Bob Fox. "We're making it so every person in this building controls their own environment."

NEW BUILDING RISING

Here's how Bank of America's new skyscraper in New York compares with its headquarters building in Charlotte.

ONE BRYANT PARK

Inside: It will serve as the New York headquarters for global corporate and investment banking; wealth and investment management; consumer and commercial businesses; and trading. Bank will occupy more than 1 million square feet.

Address: W. 42nd St.

Height: 945 feet.

Floors: 54

Scheduled opening: 2008

Cost: More than $1 billion for the project

Square feet: 2.1 million

Architect: Cook+Fox

Notable: Environmentally friendly features such as recycling rainwater runoff.

CORPORATE CENTER

Inside: Serves as the company's corporate headquarters. CEO Ken Lewis and his top lieutenants have offices on the upper floors. The bank occupies about 500,000 square feet.

Address: 100 N. Tryon St.

Height: 871 feet.

Floors: 60

Opened: 1992

Cost: $150 million

Square feet: 1.2 million

Architect: Cesar Pelli

Notable: Tallest building in the Carolinas between Atlanta and Philadelphia.

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Bryant Park is one of my favorite places in Manhattan

I used to have lunch there almost every day. I got really good at getting seats, it's an artform you know.

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