Project of the Year: 7 Bryant Park

With neighbors that include Bryant Park and the iconic New York Public Library, 7 Bryant Park was designed to maximize views.

Engineering News Record

October 6, 2016

by Peter Maloney

It was obvious from the start that the neighbors of 7 Bryant Park would have a role in the 30-story glass and stainless steel office tower that Hines was developing on the lot diagonally across from the park. In addition to a green space where office workers and visitors relax and enjoy the open air or an afternoon meal, the park, which has served as a venue for Fashion Week, offers winter ice skating and sponsors pop-up boutiques.

For Hines, the challenge also had another aspect. Pacolet Milliken Enterprises had owned 1045 Avenue of the Americas, which occupied the lot between 39th and 40th Streets on the edge of the Garment District that served as the New York headquarters of textile firm Milliken & Co. In 2009, after 1045 was torn down, Pacolet Milliken brought Hines on as development manager for the new project. Two years later, the real estate firm signed a 150-year ground lease for the property and became the general managing partner as well as developer of 7 Bryant Park.

The challenge from the beginning was to create a building that “would express the quality of the culture that Roger Milliken created,” says Tommy Craig, senior managing director for Hines’ New York office and senior project officer for 7 Bryant Park. Milliken, a billionaire and conservative movement activist who died in 2010, was the grandson of Seth Milliken, who founded what would become Milliken & Co.

At about half a million square feet, the lot was not in the 1-million-sq-ft range of top-tier New York office space, but Pacolet Milliken had a big vision, Craig says. From the beginning, the development thesis was to attract tenants looking for a space that would make a statement and give them a unique identity in the New York market.

With development starting in 2009, just after the mortgage crisis, it was part of Pacolet Milliken’s “vision” to begin work at the bottom of the market so the building would be in place for a turnaround, Craig says.

Pacolet Milliken became a partner in the project, and Hines brought in J.P. Morgan as a provider of equity capital even before the project had a tenant. “That was the ultimate endorsement,” Craig says.

Part of fitting into the neighborhood was the challenge of complying with New York City zoning rules, which required a streetwall setback at 150 ft.

That presented a challenge both in terms of space and design. From the beginning, Hines pursued a dual development track. One involved an “MTA bonus.” The developer could earn an “extra floor area ratio” if it agreed to do a certain level of infrastructure upgrading to the Metropolitan Transit Authority subway station at the location. The other track involved acquiring the unused ratio from the adjacent Spring Mills building on West 40th St.

In the end—partially because the MTA option would be so time consuming—Hines essentially acquired unused air rights from the Spring Mills building, made possible in part because the building had obtained landmark status in 2010. The acquired rights added about 60,000 sq ft of buildable space. That enabled the addition of another five stories, creating a taller tower and a much more pleasing podium-to-tower ratio.

The podium and tower arrangement was one of the challenges posed by city zoning rules. The mandatory setback results in the wedding cake design familiar in so many New York buildings, which did not fit the vision the developer and the architect had for the project.

The challenge of the site was to address its greatest asset. “The building should make a gesture toward the park,” says Yvonne Szeto, a partner with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, who with Henry Cobb formed the design team for 7 Bryant Park. “We knew the gesture had to be at the corner facing the park and had to be done efficiently so as not to waste square footage on the floor plate.” The architects came up with the geometric idea of “carving the corner.”

On the northeast corner of the building, the corner diagonally across from Bryant Park, there are two cones sitting point to point on top of each other in an arrangement resembling an hourglass.

The bottom cone is “carved” into the 10-story podium and the top is carved into the 20-story tower that sits on the podium. They join and rise as one and, together, give a “greater sense of verticality” that allows the tower to “come down to the ground,” says Szeto.

The glass sheathing of 7 Bryant Park is also unique and contributes to the building’s presence in the neighborhood, says Szeto. Instead of the typical 10-ft-high by 5-ft-wide glass panels, the design called for 10-ft by 10-ft panels that give a “much more generous panorama” of the park, she says. To highlight the effect, the design also incorporated 4-ft-high by 10-ft-wide horizontal spandrels of satin-finish stainless steel.

The handling of the glass in the building construction also was unique. The curtain wall was supplied by Portland, Ore.-based Benson Industries LLC, but to speed the logistics, the firm leased a 200,000-sq-ft warehouse in Lebanon, Pa., where the glass panels were assembled in their aluminum frames. The glass itself came from J.E. Berkowitz in Pedricktown, N.J.

Instead of packaging the glass in wooden crates, Benson built custom dollies—packing two 15-½-ft by 10-ft panels per dolly. The dollies were rolled on and off the trucks and on to the lift to the floor where they were positioned for installation.

“I credit Benson,” says Patrick Murray, vice president and construction manager at Turner Construction Co. “There were cost savings for everyone.” He added that Turner is a green builder and takes every opportunity to minimize waste. Using dollies instead of crates resulted in zero waste for a process that would usually fill one 30-yd waste container per floor and require time and labor to crate and uncrate panels.

Turner, working with structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti, erected the building by “chasing the core.” Core-first construction is widely used globally but has been slow to catch on in New York, Murray says.

The project used 95 tons of rebar and 9,200 cu yd of concrete, also employing Forming Concepts Inc.’s Kwikform’s Tru-lift self-climbing system of steel grid supports and hydraulic jacks that enabled one floor to be poured every four days. The project also was able to use Tru-lift’s new longer stroke piston that allowed for one 18-ft lift—instead of 4-ft to 8-ft lifts—that allowed work to move from one floor to the next in 25 minutes.

The design placed the core at the corner of 7 Bryant Park, enabling an unobstructed floor plan that was attractive to the eventual tenant, The Bank of China, which bought the building for nearly $600 million in 2014. The bank will occupy about 60% of the 474,000-sq-ft building, using the space for retail banking, offices and an expansive trading floor. British banking firm Schroder’s recently signed a 15-year lease to occupy 74,000 sq ft of the building.

While 7 Bryant Park may occupy a sweet spot in terms of size and location for Manhattan real estate, it was the opposite in terms of mechanical-electrical-plumbing work, says Walter Mehl, a partner at Jaros Baum & Bolles, the MEP engineer on the job. The size and shape of the glass panels presented their own challenges. Special coatings had to be devised and tested to get the proper thermal properties on the curved glass panels, he says.

The developer’s quest for LEED Gold certification also presented challenges, especially with the building’s extensive use of glass. To help reach that goal, JBB installed three 65-kW microturbines in the basement. They are fueled by natural gas and are used both to provide electricity at peak periods when the cost of utility power supplies are higher and to provide steam for heating and cooling by using cogeneration that increases the efficiency of the engines by capturing unused steam heat from the combustion process. “Hines is always thinking about what makes a successful building; a lot of tenants these days are looking for back-up power,” Mehl says.