Designing an arcade canopy may seem like a modest undertaking, but when the client is Goldman Sachs and the site is North End Way—a bustling, 11,000-square-foot pedestrian passageway within blocks of 1 World Trade Center—the stakes quickly become high.
Design architect Preston Scott Cohen anted up with project architect Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (PCFP) and architect-of-record Adamson Associates to create a luminous glass canopy that The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has heralded to be as inspiring “as the nave of a great Gothic cathedral.”
Opened to the public this spring, the canopy comprises three tilted glass triangles wedged between Goldman’s 200 West Street building and the Conrad Hotel. Made from 948 laminated-glass lites from supplier J.E. Berkowitz, the double-glazed triangular forms have an upper and lower plane of glass serving as the arcade’s roof and ceiling, respectively. The glass surfaces sandwich the canopy’s structural and cross-bracing members.
Early design iterations called for only an upper plane of glass, leaving the canopy’s structural members exposed from below. “The repetition of those ribs generated the effect of a comb,” Cohen says. “When you looked up, there was too much visual information. Since the three triangles are, in combination, trying to evoke a curve, it was very important for the glass to be as continuous on the surface as possible.”
Sizing and installing the metal structural members were the project’s greatest technical challenges, says PCFP partner Michael Flynn, FAIA. Spaced 4 feet on center and varying in length from 19 to 35 feet, the 86 wide-flange members were all custom-made by American Architectural Inc. “The care and precision with which they were made and placed determine the sheerness of the top and bottom surfaces of the glass,” Flynn says.
Careful to never touch the Conrad Hotel, the cantilevered edge of the canopy is also stabilized by stainless steel tension rods, while the fixed edge meets the Goldman building at a horizontal level, where a gutter hides above a reveal. “The canopy is separated visually from both buildings in a way, giving it an independent character,” Cohen says. “The geometry is really about negotiating the site conditions and creating the effect of movement at the same time.”
A frit on the lower glass lites diffuses light and masks the inevitable buildup of dirt, which hasn’t diminished the quality of space, Cohen says. “The site requires the canopy to adapt. It has different tempos and different types of use. It’s very urban in that sense.”