KPF’s One Jackson Square in New York’s Greenwich Village

Behind the Curtain Wall

Three residential buildings with highly innovative facades rise in New York City.

September 2010 | By Josephine Minutillo

At the intersection of Greenwich and Eighth Avenues in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, an oddly shaped lot sat empty for nearly a century. The last occupant of the site was a string of row houses that was torn down in the 1920s to make room for a subway tunnel beneath it. For years, building over the tunnel proved too expensive to be worthwhile. But with the escalation of the New York real estate market in the last decade, the investment in construction there finally seemed justified


KPF’s One Jackson Square in New York’s Greenwich Village features an undulating wall of glass and metal.

Photo: © Michael Moran

Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) was hired by Hines, the developer, to design a completely as-of-right building while maximizing the zoning volume. The corner portion of the site could rise as high as 11 stories, while the rest was limited to seven. “We treated the zoning volume like a rock in a stream,” says William Pedersen, FAIA, design partner at KPF. “We allowed the surface to pour over the volume to modify its character and create something more acceptable architecturally.” The designers envisioned a wall of glass since that was the best material they could imagine to unify the strange form in a consistent manner, but they wanted to deal with glass in a way that was unprecedented.

“We didn’t want it to look like an office building,” says KPF’s Trent Tesch, AIA. “The more individuality we could give to each floor, the better.” KPF created a series of striations that flowed horizontally through the building. Each striation is different from the one above it and below it in terms of the way it curves and the arrangement of windows it contains.

“The detail that allowed this resolution between the various layers is the key detail of the whole building,” says Pedersen. “These constantly reversed positions pulling back and forth create the ability to separate the overlapping layers.” Within each of these undulating ribbons, a series of 18-, 36-, and 48-inch-wide custom, floor-to-ceiling fixed and operable windows — all of which are completely flat — animate the facade.

“Because of all its facets, the glass wall becomes a kaleidoscopic playback of everything that surrounds it,” says Pedersen. “An ordinary glass wall just reflects its context pretty much as you see it. This wall transforms it.”

Apartment interiors have floor-to-ceiling fixed and operable window units.

Photo: © Michael Moran

Convincing the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as the building’s neighbors, that a glass wall was the way to go in the historic district presented challenges, but once approved, the real challenge came in building the structure.

Since construction of the building was scheduled to proceed during the height of New York’s building boom, it was nearly impossible to get a large curtain-wall company to take interest in such a relatively small project. Curtain-wall consultant Gilsanz Murray Steficek came up with a concept that would allow the unique wall to be built as a stick system, which meant that much of its assembly would take place on-site. The job of putting it together went to contractors whose experience lay mainly in fabricating storefronts, not luxury apartment buildings.

The metal contractors anchored 18-foot-long horizontal sections, bent according to information provided by 3D computer models, to the floor slabs. As with Beekman Tower, it was critical that the concrete slab edges were formed precisely so that the mullion joints would align and the system would be plumb both vertically and horizontally. In a couple of the units containing double-height spaces, a large beam replaces the slab edge.

Another thing One Jackson Square had in common with Beekman Tower was the constantly changing unit mix. (The finished building contains 32 units, with retail expected on the ground floor). The undulating wall proved perfect for providing the needed flexibility. KPF developed a scheme that had four panel types and one variant. Wherever a partition ended up, a vertical mullion could be added at that point in space. The contractors installed the vertical mullions within the horizontal sections on-site. The framed windows, containing low-iron, reflective glass, were then added.

Window dimensions vary, as do the curving ribbons of each floor.

Photo: © Michael Moran

One Jackson Square’s glass exterior becomes a constantly changing image of what is surrounding the building.

Photo: © Raimund Koch

1 curtain-wall anchor

2 horizontal mullion
3 split spandrel structure
4 split spandrel with bronze finish

5 vertical mullion
6 low-iron, low-e insulated glass unit
7 oak flooring
8 extruded aluminum trim


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