The New School's Brass Shingles

John Hill
3. October 2014
Photo: James Ewing © SOM

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's design for The New School's University Center in New York City places classrooms, studios, labs, a library, a dormitory, a cafe, and an auditorium behind a façade of 5,277 hand-finished brass panels.

SOM's University Center adds 375,000 square feet of academic and student space across 16 floors to The New School’s Greenwich Village campus. The prominent location at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, bridging historic districts of varying character, prompted SOM, led by Design Partner Roger Duffy to envision the building "broadcast[ing] the experimental nature of the school’s new home, creating a dialogue between the campus community, the local neighborhood, and the city."

Photo: James Ewing © SOM

The brass shingles – scaled somewhere between the brick and cast iron of the older buildings and the glass, metal panels and precast panels of contemporary buildings – are an integral part of this dialogue. Breaking through the horizontal layers of the brass shingles are clear panes that follow the stairs snaking around the building. The glass and metal work together to express the social interaction and interdisciplinary exchange that the outboard circulation promotes.

Photo: James Ewing © SOM
Photo: James Ewing © SOM

The above photo conveys the character of the stairs that make their way along the façades; the vision glass frames the city while displaying the movements of students and professors to the street. In this case, the color and signage express the school's name and identity near the building's main entrance at 13th Street.

Photo: James Ewing © SOM

The above photo shows the cafe, but it also highlights a decorative wrap by artist Rita McBride that covers some piping. Given the atypical course of the stairs (stacking open, communicating stairs above enclosed fire stairs), pipes and ducts serving the fire stairs zigzag through the building rather than in straight, vertical risers. Perhaps inspired by SOM's choice of metal for the exterior, McBride covered the infrastructure in faceted brass sheets, such that they fit in with the rest of the building while also standing out.

For the 131,000 square feet of brass on the exterior, SOM selected Muntz metal, CDA Alloy 203, a non-corrosive brass alloy typically used for shipbuilding, according to Metals in Construction magazine, which published a case study on the building in its Spring 2014 issue. The article also describes the zigzag path of the brass alloy, which was manufactured by Gamma North America: They carried out the design in Miami, where the aluminum panels for holding the brass shingles were produced; the brass panels were fabricated in Gamma's Quebec City location and then shipped to Toronto for a patina bath; finally they were sent to Miami to be made into unitized panels before making their way to the job site in New York. It was a long journey that paid off in a finished product that helps in creating a new symbol for The New School.

Photo: John Hill/World-Architects
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

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