When the New York Times Building opened in late 2007, critics marveled at the 3-inch-diameter ceramic rods covering the façade of the 52-story skyscraper—the first glass tower with a sunscreen to be built in the United States. But last Wednesday, dozens of the trademark, and evidently climber-friendly, rods were removed just hours after the third person in five weeks attempted to scale the building. The decision was made as a safety measure to prevent future daredevils from mounting the high-rise that cost more than $1 billion to construct. Increased security in the area after the first stunt clearly was not enough to deter thrill seekers.
New York Times Building
Last week, dozens of the New York Times Building’s ceramic rods were removed after the third person in five weeks attempted to scale the 52-story skyscraper.
Photo © David Sundberg/Esto
The 1.5-million-square-foot project was designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), based in Italy, with FXFOWLE in New York. The firms are working with The New York Times Company and its development partner, Forest City Ratner, to create measures that “will reduce and hopefully limit access to the ceramic screen of the building,” says Bernard Plattner, a partner at RPBW who oversaw the project. The New York Times Company has declined to comment on any changes to the building, although The New York Times newspaper reports that permanent glass panels will be installed to hinder access to glass canopies, which climbers have used as stepping stools to the rods.

Renzo Piano devised the brise-soleil as a “lace curtain” that envelops the tower’s glass-and-steel frame. More than 186,000 ceramic tubes comprise the screen, which projects eighteen inches from the curtain wall. Their purpose goes far beyond aesthetics. According to The Times, the rods block half of the sun’s energy, but still allow a significant amount of light to pass through the building’s floor-to-ceiling, ultra-clear windows.

Piano certainly didn’t intend for the ceramic screen to serve as a ladder that would entice so-called urban climbers. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, David Malone, 29, from Hartford, Connecticut, ascended 11 stories and hung a banner from the building’s Eighth Avenue façade. On June 5, two other climbers scaled the building in separate incidences: Alain Robert, a French stuntman, and Renaldo Clarke, a Brooklyn resident, both reached the top.

“We decided to remove a limited number of rods in the lower part. This is the only immediate possible way to reduce accessibility,” Plattner explains. “The permanent solution is about to be worked out and will not affect the building’s aesthetic.” He adds that the building’s interior temperature shouldn’t increase, as the alterations only concern a small section of rods on the north and south façades, which face narrow streets.