With Millions Spent, Will the Javits Center’s New GlassFaçade Survive?

Before construction is even complete, the fate of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center’s new high-performance glass façade is at risk. Designed by architectural firm FXFOWLE in collaboration with Epstein, for the past six years the Javits Center in New York has been undergoing a massive, glassy transformation designed to make the original dark structure, light, bright and more energy efficient. However, a recent announcement by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put a halt to parts of the construction work.

The Javits Center is being renovated with a crisp, transparent new façade. Enclos is handling the renovation with glass supplied by Viracon.

In his State of the State address Gov. Cuomo proposed building what would be the largest convention center in the nation—a $4 billion investment—to be located in Jamaica, Queens. The plan would involve destructing the Javits Center, originally designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and completed in 1986, and repurposing its location, transforming it into a private sector development, much like the Battery Park City model.

Like so many others involved with the renovation, Bruce Fowle, founding principal of FXFOWLE, was surprised when he found out about three weeks ago of the plans to potentially demolish the structure on which he and his firm have been working since 2006.

The project started six years ago, Fowle explains, with Gov. Pataki, who wanted to “rebuild the Javits Center into a world-class facility.” Then came Gov. Spitzer, Fowle says, who ultimately decided to withdraw some of the State and City funds, leaving only $500 million from the Javits Hotel Tax to renovate the building. That’s when Fowle says they came up with the plan to restore and revitalize the building by replacing the façade and insulating a new roof with a 7-acre green roof, one of the largest in the Northeast.

“The existing building was 25 years old and the façade was in terrible shape,” says Fowle of the original structure, which had a dark and reflective glass façade.

“What was particularly disturbing about Gov. Cuomo’s announcement to raze the Javits was all the talk about the building being an unattractive Darth Vader-like monstrosity. It’s not like that anymore,” says Fowle. “As of today, 50 percent of the façade has already been replaced by a crisp, transparent and glistening new skin.”

He continues, “The renovation is underway with a first-class, high-performance curtainwall that’s projected to have 25 percent energy savings and we’re going for LEED Silver.”

Enclos and Baker Metal Products provided fabrication services, with Enclos alone handling the assembly and glazing of curtainwall units. Two performance and visual mock-ups were conducted to confirm these glazing systems. The project features 330,000 square feet of Viracon glass, 1 1/8-inch insulating glass units spanning 10 x 10 feet and 5 x 10 feet. The façade is 459,000 square feet and is a 4-sided structurally glazed system with exterior wet seal.

Rick Voelker, vice president technical services for Viracon, says the new glass is more energy efficient than the old and allows more natural daylight than the original glass, reducing dependence on artificial light inside.

Fowle adds, “Fortunately three years ago the bidding climate was much better than it is today so we were able to buy the curtainwall for far less than we had originally anticipated. Everything was under budget so we were able to accomplish more than what we originally thought we could.”

Aside from its aesthetics and energy efficiency, the new glass provides another feature that Fowle says is very important.

“The New York City Audubon had previously determined that the Javits was the number one bird killer building in the city, as they have found more dead birds around the Center than any other building in the city. So for this project we went through an extensive glass selection process—looking at glare, performance, reflectivity and transparency—to make sure we’d have the visibility as well as the performance,” says Fowle. “We determined we needed to have a frit on the glass to mitigate the bird issue, as well as for performance, so combined with a less than 15 percent reflectivity, I am confident it will greatly reduce the number of birds that are killed at the site.”

According to Fowle, the project exterior is about 50 percent complete.

“The work has been done in phases as the building had to remain operational,” he says. While the renovation is expected to be completed in 2013, Fowle says some of the work has been put on hold as a result of Cuomo’s announcement.

However, Mic Patterson, director of strategic development with Enclos, says his company’s focus remains on completing the new facade.

“The work is progressing rapidly and everyone I’ve talked with is stunned by the quality of the transformation,” says Patterson. “It does challenge belief, that in this time when issues of sustainability are becoming increasingly paramount, that the destruction of a newly renovated facility such as the Javits Convention Center can be seriously contemplated. This is an absolutely unique building with its glass-clad space frame structure … While I am not privy to the great many contextual factors that surround such a consideration, I would be far less surprised to hear that the building was to be protected as a national landmark, as it will very likely be one day if it survives.”

Images provided by Enclos.