Reimagining the Pan Am Building

VOA and Werner Sobek present “Pan Am Under Glass”

Known to many as the “Pan Am Building,” 200 Park Avenue has been both studied by architects and reviled by many New Yorkers since it opened in 1963.  When the original developer of the building engaged Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi to collaborate with New York stalwart Emery Roth and Sons, he ensured that generations of architects hence would study and, generally, admire the building.  What he could not have foreseen was how New Yorkers would come to decry the way the building walled off Park Avenue above the roof of Grand Central Terminal.

Recently, VOA teamed with curtainwall consultants from the office of Werner Sobek on an entry for Metals in Construction magazine’s 2016 Design Challenge: Reimagining 200 Park Avenue. This week, team members from Werner Sobek Silvia Pirandelli and Laurence DeBary and VOA’s team of Caroline Karlsen, Mavis Tang, Haley Gutierrez, and Jacob Ross attended the jury presentation and awards ceremony today for that design challenge. Werner Sobek‘s Viola Kosseda and Valeria Postorino were unable to attend.

The design brief asked entrants to create “a vision for recladding this New York City icon with a resource-conserving, eco-friendly enclosure—one that creates a highly efficient envelope with the lightness and transparency sought by today’s office workforce while preserving and enhancing the aesthetic of its heritage.”

Like several of the other finalists, our team chose to find an opportunity beyond the original design brief by seeking to ameliorate the imposing aspects of the Pan Am Building often referenced by many New Yorkers. In particular, we lanced the building along either side of its core, leaving multi-story penetrations to allow skies beyond visible through the building’s considerable bulk.

Returning to the original intent of recladding, we developed a unique ventilated double-skin solution – featuring an outer skin of large-scale double-curvature glass lights to reconcile the historical disagreement between Gropius’ insistence on texture and Belluschi’s aspirations for simple Miesian tautness. We dubbed our design “Pan Am Under Glass.”

Upon concluding the jury’s review of the six finalists, moderator Peter Arbour announced that an individual winner was not to be chosen and that the prize would be shared, equally, by all six finalists. Along with the VOA/Werner Sobek team, finalists included AECOM, FXFowle, Andres Escobar/LeMay, CASE-RPI, and Studio TJOA.

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