Reimagining the Metlife Building.

Grand Central Station - Metlife:Pan Am Building - NYCA Go boardi of office lights illuminated on its bent, bulky, brutalist facade, the Metlife Building née Pan Amii at 200 Park Avenue, perceptibly chills the nighttime air looming overtop Mercury’s winged helmet. Walking towards the ancient messenger – the pinnacle of the “Transportation” trio designed by Jules Coutaniii and centrepiece of the 1`500 ton sculpture cresting Grand Central Terminal’s century-old south face,iv itself at the juncture of the solitary twinning of Park Avenue – one comes fully to terms with the sheer voluminousness of the burly beauty, etched as she is into midtown Manhattan in domineering slabs of pre-cast concrete and single-glazed lites. This is Arriviste meeting Ancient. This is swashbuckling progressivism writ gargantua.

But unlike the Greco-Roman Revivalist train station,v all is not well for the wrinkled, sagging, big-boned Bertha : her shock value is evermore diminished as glitzier, pizazzier metal and glass rise story by story from the scarred earth all around her, ready to tear away her tiara for Postest of post-post-moderns. So it is that we come to the subject of today’s article : namely, the future of the 58-story, 3.14 mn sq ft, precast concrete-clad, Gropius and Belluschi-designedvi Metlife Building.

What’s next for this icon nested in the core of the flurious hedge fund known as Manhattan no hockey stickist can say for sure (though they might well posture to the contrary), but what’s all too evident – like perhaps only London, Singapore, and Hong Kong besides – is that New York as a whole is pushing the bounds of vertical construction, and with it cattle density, in a way that only scarce land and global overpopulation can. Several 1`000+ ft skyscrapers are currently under construction,vii largely to service the growing demand for luxury investment properties by Russians and Chinese looking for trophy pads with which to off-shore opportunistically-garnered gelt. Fetching upwards of $10`000 psf and primarily concentrated on the south border of Central Park,viii the record and order books are being written and re-written as quickly as cranes can be erected, which is ironic given that our same feathered friend symbolises longevity for the Chinese.

Metals In Construction magazine recently announced their winners for a design competition to determine precisely this. Of the six entries selected,ix a few elements in particular caught my eye. These, then, are a few of the very best :

1. VOA and Werner Sobek

Preview of “PanAm Under Glass-VOAWernerSobek-1.pdf”Outside of automotive windscreens, it’s fairly unusual to find glass with gradated tints for reducing glare and solar heat gain, and although auto-dimming “smart” glassx has found a few clients who can stomach the cost, fritted glass, as employed in the Pan Am Under Glass entry, is a more creative solution to maintaining visual transparency while reducing solar heat gain during the high-sunned summer months. Being passive, it also does away with the “we heart winbloze 10/10 would buy again!” prostitution ring relied on the “smart” shit,xi which is invaluable as a measure towards sovereignty.

2. StudioTJOA

Automated, self-activating technologies are all the rage atm, leveraging theStudioTJOA abundant supply of code-monkey-who-equivalencies as they do, but as this entry demonstrates, not all self-activating systems have to be “intelligently” automated. Using the elasticity and memory properties of nitinolxii alloys in concert with hinged curtain wall panels, Thermalswitch creates a double-skin facade whose flexible scales rotate +/- 24* from vertical to passively cool the building in the summer and heat it in the winter. In keeping with its unconventional and next-generation building material choices, this entry also employs fibreglass composite curtain wall framing for improved insulative capacity and occupant comfort.


AECOMMemes being memes, they’re earwormy. This can have obvious political uses but more often than not memes are family-friendly lolzcakes.xiii The Vertimeme entry takes the “Yo dawg we heard you like tall things so we put a taller thing on your tall thing so that you have more tall things” meme and applies it to the Metlife Building. The result is a 84% reduction in utility costs in a structure with 70% greater occupancy and fully twice the height of the monolithic original. The niftiest aspect of this entry is how this increase in height is achieved : the Michell truss. A favourite of architectural theorists, the Michell truss system lends a fractional Fibonacci sequence – a slivered sunflower – aesthetic to the exterior while lending the taller structure the necessary strength to maintain its existing foundation, a necessary precondition for also maintaining high occupancy levels during the renovation and expansion. The Michell truss has never (afaik) been employed at the scale presented by AECOM.

There’s nothing stopping an ambitious ownerxiv from combining all of these features. And more.

___ ___ ___

  1. Go go AlphaGo !! Oh my, weren’t those simpler times ?
  2. The interior of which, incidentally, was the last thing my old Apple TV dared display before I taught it how to fly.
  3. Whitney Warren, the project architect for the Beaux Arts monument to America’s halcyon era, described the trio thusly :

    The architectural composition consists of three great portals crowned by a sculptural group, the whole to stand as a monument to the glory of commerce as typified by Mercury, supported by moral and mental energy – Hercules and Minerva. All to attest that this great enterprise has grown and exists not merely from the wealth expended, nor by the revenue derived, but by the brain and brawn constantly concentrated upon its development for nearly a century.

    This was, to be sure, in the days before the deification of Buffett, Bernanke, Jobs, Musk, Gates, Zuckerberg, and the rest of the replaceable raft of sovietesque stand-ins.

    I suppose you probably thought it was more progressive to wipe clean the slates of history, to start afresh without the Bible or Torah as your touchstone, but where’s your intellectual foundation now, hm ? You can’t just off-shore all that erstwhile “boring stuff,” especially not when it’s your brain and brawn. Not without going Full Retard. Maybe next time you’ll think past the next quarter, past the synergistic economies of leveraged reverse buyout scale and realise that globalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    The value of those fuddy-duddy books your parents hit you over the head with so many times was never the slavish morality and cultish rituals, but rather the appreciation for tradition, ie. who you really are.

  4. [streetview]
  5. It’s one thing to design train stations in the Greco-Roman Revivalist manner, it’s quite another to design websites thusly.
  6. Granting that Emery Roth & Sons laid the groundwork for the design.
  7. 111 West 57th (below-right) stands out to this author’s eye not only for its breathtaking views and mouse-like footprint but also its nod to traditional materials with terra cotta cladding and bronze curtail wall mullions that slenderly give way to delicate finials that borders on filagres.

    Metlife vs. 111 West 57th footprints

  8. I’ve long used the analogy that Bitcoin is akin to real estate overlooking Central Park in that there’s only so much of it and all the world’s dollars are competing for a slice. Unlike Bitcoin, however, you never really know how much more real estate will one day overlook the famously grassy uptown knoll, and the rate and size of the new towers about to come online only drives the uncertainty of this fundamental economic calculation, but it’s still gives some .
  9. Six teams split the $15k prize. No, architecture, like any prostitutional craft, is not a get-rich-quick-scheme, even if some escorts, like the recently deceased Zaha Hadid, are “starchitects” so to speak.
  10. To provide consistent shading and internal temperatures, “smart” glass tracks the sun’s movement and several other data points such as occupancy load to determine the optimal placement and degree of window tinting. But while this type of technology works well enough in cloudless desert geographies where “unexpected” meteorological variables are exceedingly rare, inclement weather has a funny way of confusing the shit out of these “autonomous” toys. Then there’s the Pandora’s box of prospective servicing and maintenance requirements, mid-term support uncertainty (Trump‘s not a fan of SV), and an alarming likelihood of pushed updates. But hey, no one cancelled caveat emptor despite the efforts of FDIC / CDIC to foment moral hazard at every turn. 
  11. Even if they call their OS “Android”, it’s still winbloze.
  12. Nickel-titanium alloy.
  13. Eg. “Yo dawg I heard you liked fish so we put a fish tank in your car so you can fish while you’re driving in your car while you’re looking at your fish in your car that we put in your car cuz we heard you like fish.”
  14. Which Donald Bren indisputably is.

5 thoughts on “Reimagining the Metlife Building.

  1. […] New York’s architecture, arguably the only other reason to bother with the Big Apple, obviously doesn’t scale quite so neatly. [↩] […]

  2. […] cramped, uncomfortable, smelly old cars. The newly sanitisedviii aesthetic everywhere present from architecture to smartphones – perfectly embodying the “I just want to” of the modern age […]

  3. […] Otis, and with a little help from steel and concrete, buildings were built higher and higher and *gulp* higher!  […]

  4. […] the high fixed costs of construction!ii You wouldn’t think that the same forces that drive Manhattan‘s real estate market to the moon would also drive a barren, rocky, snowy arctic wasteland […]

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