It’s the architecture and design event of the year! The Conference on Architecture, that is.
With 70 events over three days, the expo, hosted annually by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), features new products, materials and leading building product manufacturers. Through a series of seminars, workshops and tours, some of the most creative architects, designers and firms will share how they’re making a difference in cities spanning from London, Arkansas to London, England.
This year’s conference, held from June 21 through June 23, will take place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, New York. Opened in April 1986, the Javits Center is one of the largest convention centers in the United States, regularly hosting a variety of popular functions, including the New York International Auto Show and Comic Con. In fact, Javits serves as the venue for 102 major convention and trade shows annually, making it one of the busiest convention centers in the country.
In the new millennium, however, the center had become beset with problems. Fearing its ability to attract business was threatened, Javits made the decision to revamp. Epstein was pleased to enter into a joint venture with FXCollaborative to bring the facility into the 21st century.
Getting the Javits up to speed was done in two phases: renovation, which was completed in 2013, and expansion, which is currently taking place.
Epstein provided an assortment of services for numerous projects during the center’s extensive renovation phase, including, among others, façade removal, followed by the engineering, fabrication and installation of new curtain wall and skylight systems. Through these assignments, Epstein’s architectural, design, project management and engineering expertise helped transform the Javits into a center that looks and functions better.
Furthermore, keeping the facility open for business was essential to its bottom line and to the economic well-being of the city it calls home, according to Alan Steel, President and CEO of the Javits Center.
“Javits generates in excess of $2 billion of economic activity as a result of events that take place each year,” Steel said. “If we had been closed for four to five years, there could have been the dislocation of potentially $8 to $10 billion of business.” The masses of people the events bring in, along with their successive activities – dinner, theater, taxi rides – all would have played a role in the monetary mishap.
One of the main features of the renovation is a new 6.75-acre green roof, the second largest of its kind in the United States, home to 26 bird species, five bat species and thousands of honeybees. It is also equipped with a glass curtain wall that provides new tree-lined access along a six-block stretch of 11th Avenue.
The renovated facility achieved LEED-NC Silver certification under the United States Green Building Council.
“But it wasn’t just renovation that was needed,” said Mike Damore, Epstein’s Executive Managing Director and Head of Design. “We wanted to afford Javits the opportunity to compete for bigger shows; to keep them competitive with other convention centers across the U.S.”
Starting in 2014, Epstein and the JV served as the design architects for Javits’ new $1.5 billion expansion program, providing planning, programming and preliminary design services. Randy Buescher, Director of Architecture at Epstein, recalls, "This was an intensive and highly collaborative process with all the stakeholders; negotiating all of the tasks that the Javits didn’t have, and then fitting them into the only remaining and challenged North site, and it worked."
The project will provide Javits with 45,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting rooms and a 55,000-square-foot ballroom, which is the largest in the New York City region. It also features 27 new loading docks, new kitchen and food service areas, a green roof terrace and pavilion capable of accommodating 1,500 people, and 90,000 square feet of new permanent exhibition space. When combined with the existing space, it creates a 500,000-square-foot exhibition hall.
The expansion program, which will pursue LEED-NC Silver Certification, also includes an on-site truck marshalling facility capable of holding 229 trucks, which are on a constant churn of delivering materials to and from the center. The already imposing logistics of incoming and outgoing freight for the events are compounded by the center’s location in a rapidly developing area on Manhattan’s West Side. Among projects currently under construction is a four-level facility with 29 new loading docks on two levels, storage for 129 tractor trailers and a marshalling area to accommodate the 40 queueing trucks that would otherwise congest neighborhood streets. 20,000 event-related trucks will, in turn, be rerouted away from public streets every year, resulting in improved traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
Epstein’s Industrial Process Engineering group performed a comprehensive study of existing travel and loading operations to create a simulation of the proposed expanded facility. The truck marshalling space will reduce the move in and out process for Javits by 30 percent, giving them an additional 20 days for new events.
We then, in record time, produced the program requirements and indicative design, aiding New York State in procuring a design-build team to carry out the design intent.
Epstein continues to assist ownership with design and program intent and is also the design architect, MEP/FP engineer and structural engineer for the facility’s new transformer building, which will house emergency and back-up generators, switchgear and other mechanicals needed. The three-story, 34,000-square-foot structure will provide the required power for the expanded Javits Center upon completion in 2020.
The transformer building will feature elevated enclosed platforms and will be built over the center’s existing transformer yard above the floodplain, which will meet the increased electrical demand of the expanded building. It will have a structural steel frame with two supported levels, and the floors will be concrete slab on metal deck, supported by steel beams with composite studs.
The building's roof level will have a horizontal canopy intermixed with green-screen elements and planters that support climbing vines. Acoustic panels will also be placed intermittently along the north edge of the building roof to reduce rooftop unit noise. Paul Sanderson, Epstein's Senior Project Architect, worked on the renovation, and continues to manage the transformer building.
Those who only remember the Javits Center of the 80’s and 90’s will be astounded by its new look. It certainly has come a long way since it opened those 32 years ago. Quite frankly, it’s not the same facility anymore; precisely the idea, according to Mike.
“I like to use the word ‘transformation.’ It’s like the building was reborn,” he said.
And to Steel, that is no exaggeration, adding that working with Epstein to reimagine the center has been a great experience.
“They were very sensitive to our needs, they were very available,” he said of Epstein, whose collaboration with the Javits Center originated in 2005. “It was a very symbolic relationship. We grew together as the process went on and it was a very valuable relationship, which continues. Without the renovation, we would have probably been looking at demolition.”
For years, the I.M. Pei-designed Javits Center had become a nightmare. The ceiling leaked, lighting was horrendous and the exterior façade appeared painstakingly tired. Nearly all of the issues were the result of the design reaching too far and aiming too high; the 1970’s technology was simply not capable of reproducing Pei’s vision of a “crystal palace.” Epstein and FXCollaborative were able to create a new and improved Javits, one that brings Pei’s original design intent to fruition.
And the outside matches the inside. The Javits is now able to properly operate, demonstrated by its ability to host events like the Conference on Architecture, which attracts upwards of 23,000 attendees, accumulates an all-star speaker lineup and even includes a rooftop party. This year’s theme, “Blueprint for Better,” aims to shine a light on the work architects, designers and industry leaders are doing in their communities. The Javits Center is a remarkable example of just that.
(Daniel Bukszpan, a freelance journalist, contributed to this article.)