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UN Building - No Standards!

2009 // UN Building, New York City, NY, US // masterplan - urban preservation // study

w/ Kasey Josephs





The project reads the microclimate values of the 42nd street in general and the UN plaza in particular in favor of its architectonic conditions. Different flexible envelopes embrace new urban programs that benefit from these conditions.


Comfort vs. Evolve          

The beginning project was oriented towards human comfort only. This new project reacts to that statement and includes animals in its habitat in search for an environmental unity which settles humans and animals together. A new transparent skin wraps the Tudor building facing the UN plaza proposing new spaces for either humans or persons to use depending on a communal symbiosis. The skin changes with the weather variations along a year. The project establishes a new relation with the UN plaza continuing the complexity of the inside-outside dichotomy existing in the new façade into the horizontality of the street level.


Maximize Gains          

In order to solve global warming one must weight all the externalities to know which is most efficient.  Bjorn Lomborg argues we do not have the proper resources and technologies to solve this massive crisis, therefore all efforts should focus on solving other worldly issues more feasible; such as world hunger and curing diseases.  Steven Levitt suggests the problem is greater than any individual can solve.  To make a difference, we must reverse the damage already caused using geoenginnering technologies. We made our own conclusion by graphing the different strategies to compare impact vs. time vs. cost to determine which methods are most effective for solving the inefficiencies along 42nd street.  We developed a cloud seeding system above the exiting aging buildings to diffuse solar radiation during the summer.  In the winter a mesh blanket heated by the existing underground steam would allow solar gain and reduce energy loss.   


Maximize Comfort          

​Rather than optimize efficiency, our new position optimizes comfort.  This strategy is far from being efficient according to Levitt and Lomborg in terms of ‘green’ however it is a factor that must be considered.  We used the same cloud seeding strategy developed in position 1 but changed the location to protect public outdoor space rather than buildings.  The cloud’s velocity, intensity, and color changed in response to the weather.   The cloud could be seen as a beacon in Bryant Park displaying important data or reflecting the activity below. 


No Standards!!          

We chose the UN Headquarters as grounds for investigating what to optimize: time, impact, cost, comfort, efficiency. The political function and multicultural diversity should maintain a close relationship with the city of New York and the rest of the world.  This modernist landmark built in the early 1950s, is now dated in terms of energy efficiency. What does efficiency really mean?  We designed a new envelope that uses passive strategies to diffuse direct solar radiation.  Air from the exterior is introduced through pneumatic funnels that serve as the structure for the skin. The façade expresses these funnels as a grid of points measuring the expanding ETFE pockets.  A variation of air density is introduced to different parts of the tower.  The outer pockets use existing steam from under the site to inflate during summer and winter for extra insulation. Should comfort be standardized?   Le Corbusier helped design the United Nations from the notion that comfort should be uniform.  Each floor in the tower mimics the one below, generalizing one temperature to satisfy a majority.  Shortly after the completion of this project, Buckminster Fuller was questioning the notion of uniformity through his geodesic domes. Our project responds to this evolution of thinking.  We bridged the existing dichotomy of exterior and interior by allowing the walls freedom to change. How to really unite people?  We propose a new public space for the UN building and for the city of New York. The main section is defined by two layers of open public space that relates several domes constructed in a similar language as the façade.  The ETFE pockets expand and contract according to the programs within while securing levels of specificity for each event taking place.   We created different spaces for people to protest, gather, hear important events, listening to speeches, and to play.

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