New York, NY
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Case Study: United Nations International School
The United Nations International School, a K-12 facility built in the early 1970s, boasted unique advantages and suffered equally unique failings, many of which are tied to the structure's location on New York City's East River.
The New York office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was engaged to design a renovation and expansion of the structure in 2008. The school needed the renovation to provide a new theater, cafeteria, gymnasium and a suitably distinguished front entrance. Overall, SOM was tasked to use their architectural ideas to encourage academic excellence within a close-knit community, while accenting the campus, its location and views.
Accentuating Views Through Transparent Division
"For the redesign of the first floor, the client wanted to take advantage of the enormous floor plate's potential for views of the East River," says John Cicconi, an associate with SOM who worked on the firm's design. "Our plan was to find a solution for opening up the cafeteria area to the outside – so that the space could serve as a function hall in the evening – while being sensitive to the client's need for noise attenuation. School cafeterias get noisy at lunchtime." Even more challenging: SOM asked for the wall to be curved – and completely out of sight when fully open.
"We specified NanaWall because of the high quality, durability and minimalist appearance of the system."
SOM's design team specified NanaWall’s HSW60Thermally Broken Aluminum Framed Single Track Sliding System, with 19 panels divided among two openings. The solution was a segmented application with no floor track and a unique docking bay for the panels.
NanaWall stood out from the competition for this application for its ability to combine transparency with acoustic attenuation, and significant customizability, especially the curved design, according to the SOM design team.
As a result, the floor-to-ceiling glass reinforces the school’s unique location by opening up a sweeping view outdoors through the glass to doors beyond, which leads to the riverfront. The space can then adapt to a fully open lobby as the segmented panels individually slide to one side, disappearing within minutes.
The NanaWall system typifies SOM’s inventive and graceful adaptation of the original 1972 structure, which stands as a rather effective symbol of architecture's Brutalist movement.
Creating a Collaborative Environment
Fitting for its time, the facility required some rather bold interventions to bring it up to date. On every floor, and in every renovated area, the redesign attempts to establish a sense of community and a connection to the location, especially the East River frontage. Bringing river views to as much of the space as possible was essential, leading to the choice of NanaWall for the first floor's convertible cafeteria and lobby area.
"We specified NanaWall because of the high quality, durability and minimalist appearance of the system," Cicconi remarks. Indeed the wall seems almost entirely transparent, with its slender, anodized-aluminum framing.
"NanaWall was up to the technical challenge of manufacturing a track and adequate seals between panels for a curved wall application,” continues Cicconi. “Now the cafeteria doubles as an open-air function space in the evening, and when closed, the exterior grade system provides the necessary acoustic barrier."