Going Green

Kalli Rasbury

January 1, 2007

In 1927, when William Randolph Hearst commissioned the six-story building in Midtown Manhattan that would house the offices of the Hearst Corporation (which at the time was made up of 12 magazines), he envisioned a much larger company in future years. That may be why the L-shaped building, originally 40,000 square feet, was structurally reinforced from the beginning to support an office tower that would reinvent the New York City skyline. Over time, however, the International Magazine Building, located at 959 Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, remained largely the same; it was even designated a Landmark Site by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1988. Then, last year, a new era began for the Hearst Corporation.

On October 9, 2006, the 46-story, 856,000-square-foot Hearst Tower was opened—indeed an extraordinary addition to the New York City skyline. Just a few weeks earlier, on September 22, 2006, the tower received its official green status from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It was LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified at the Gold level, an amazing accomplishment for a New York skyscraper and a standard-setter for big-city businesses to come. The building is designed to use 26-percent less energy overall than the minimum requirements for the city of New York. (See Figure 1 for details on LEED certification requirements.)

There is an undeniable emphasis throughout the Hearst Tower on both natural light and fresh air. This ultramodern take on the workplace allows employees to collaborate in an environment that is both open and beautiful. The focus on providing a healthy space with the highest environmental quality in every aspect of the building’s design makes the tower a new standard in workplace design. The Hearst Corporation is as diverse as its facilities. Its major interests include magazine, newspaper, and business publishing; ownership in leading cable networks; TV and radio broadcasting; Internet businesses; TV production; newspaper features distribution; and real estate. Modern technologies enhance the company’s ability to perform. In addition to magazine and corporate offices, the tower houses a broadcast studio, a digital photography center, a fitness center that is open to employees at subsidized prices, a corporate café, a 168-seat theater, exhibition spaces, and a Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Energy Star appliances in these facilities add to the building’s cumulative energy savings.

The company hired Lord Norman Foster, Hon. Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), of Foster and Partners in the United Kingdom, as the architect for the tower. Lord Foster is both an AIA Gold Medal recipient and a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Foster and Partners worked with Gensler, an award-winning firm cited by the AIA as a model for the design professions in the 21st century, to implement the sustainable design of the tower.

Green From the Ground Up

The tower’s design is unique in that it preserves the integrity of the International Magazine Building while adding an entirely new, vertical, glass-and-steel dimension that rises magnificently 597 feet from the original base. The façade of the 1928 building now wraps around as a pediment for the new tower. A transparent skirt of glass separates the old below from the new above, giving visitors the impression that they are looking up at a glass tower floating in the air above them.

The frame of the tower is triangulated in a “diagrid” design to emphasize the building’s vertical proportions (see Photo 1). The exterior is a series of four-story, peeled-back steel triangles with a glass façade from floor to ceiling. This unusual design required 20 percent less steel than would a conventional tower of the same size. The diagrid frame actually saved about 2,000 tons of steel, and over 90 percent of the structural steel used in the tower contains recycled material.

The glass around the exterior of the building has a special low-emissivity (low-E) coating that allows natural light to flood the building while blocking the invisible solar radiation that causes heat. This low-E coating is a microscopically thin, clear metal or metallic oxide layer deposited directly onto the surface of the glass panes to create a more “insulated” glass. The coating reduces the rate at which a window conducts nonsolar heat—the window’s U-factor—which helps control heat transfer and therefore reduces long-term energy costs. Windows with low-E coatings typically cost about 10 to 15 percent more than regular windows, but they reduce energy loss by as much as 30 to 50 percent.

Other key “green” aspects of the Hearst Tower include its unique approaches to heating and air conditioning. The floor in the atrium is paved with limestone that is heat conductive. Polyethylene tubing embedded underneath the floor is filled with circulating water for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. According to Andrew J. Thomann of Turner Construction Company, the ceiling tile in the Hearst Tower contains 27-percent recycled content. The tile backing was foil faced, so as not to add any particulate matter to the ventilation stream. The floors throughout the tower also were manufactured with recycled content. Concrete surfaces were finished with low-toxicity sealants.

A two-story water sculpture in the atrium, called Icefall, was created from thousands of glass panels that make a waterfall. The water for the falls is actually rainwater collected from the roof and then chilled. Besides being a beautiful focal point for employees and visitors, Icefall keeps the atrium cool in summer and humidifies the area in the winter. Icefall is complimented by a 40- by 70-foot mural created by artist Richard Long from the mud of the Avon and Hudson rivers. The mural “Riverlines” celebrates rivers of flowing water as a critical environmental element (see Photo 2). Escalators run between the falls, from the street level to the internal plaza and mezzanine areas, which are used for meetings, exhibitions, and special functions.

Collected rainwater adds to the building’s sustainability. It flows from the rooftop to a 14,000-gallon reclamation tank in the basement. It is then used to replace water that has evaporated from the office air-conditioning system. The rainwater also feeds into the pumping system used to irrigate the property’s plants and trees.

Because of its energy-saving qualities, insulation is an inherently green product. It is also a critical soundproofing feature for a building that hosts some 2,000 employees on a daily basis. According to Thomann, the fiber glass insulation used in the Hearst Tower was made of an average of 30-percent postconsumer recycled glass and 5-percent postindustrial recycled glass. Mineral-wool insulation used in the building had a minimum of 75-percent postindustrial recycled content. Batt, blanket, blown, and sprayed insulations were not installed above hung ceilings or in return air plenums so as not to add particulate matter to the ventilation air stream. Duct-liner products were faced so that particulates would not enter the ventilation air stream.

According to Hearst’s website, www.hearstcorp.com, at the opening of the Hearst Tower, Lord Foster said, “The completion of Hearst Tower is a defining moment for New York. It represents great optimism and a sign of more good things to come after the trauma of the city’s recent history. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on the realization of this dream originally envisioned in 1926. It is a mark of a determined client and a great city that this tower literally sparkles on the New York skyline today.”

The Hearst Corporation has taken a major step toward tomorrow by investing in the Hearst Tower. The attention to sustainable design will no doubt pay untold rewards for years to come. This building is groundbreaking in more ways than one, and it is reinventing more than just the New York City skyline.