26 July 2018IDM

South Tyrolean avant-garde in the Big Apple

South Tyrolean company Stahlbau Pichler and Zaha Hadid Architects joined forces to construct an iconic building with an innovative façade in one of the hippest neighbourhoods of New York.

A striking, unmissable building, 520W 28th Street is one of the last works of world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away in 2016. The project combines glass, aluminium and steel, which appear to communicate with one another thanks to innovative technological and engineering solutions made in South Tyrol. Located in the heart of one of New York’s most fashionable artistic and creative neighbourhoods, the sculptural residential building seems to have grown from the High Line in Manhattan, a linear park that has been created along the route of a disused freight railway line over the past decade. The area is known for its beauty and the edifice constructed by Zaha Hadid Architects in collaboration with the Bolzano-based company Stahlbau Pichler GmbH could be described as the icing on the cake. Boasting 39 luxury apartments, the futuristic structure stands out in particular for its unique façade, which covers 5,000 square metres, is divided into dynamic sculpture-like sections made from metal in low relief and reflects the vibrant spirit of the neighbourhood. Stahlbau Pichler was the ideal candidate for taking on the challenge of implementing such an elaborate design. Founded in Bolzano some 40 years ago as a small handicraft firm, it has developed into an international company sought after for its expertise in constructing complex steel structures and curtain walls. 

However, as recalled by Design Manager Harald Spitaler, who oversaw the prestigious project from start to finish, even the South Tyrolean experts at Stahlbau Pichler recognised from the very first drawings that the building project in the centre of Manhattan was something special. “The final result exceeded all expectations, both our own and those of the architectural firm,” he says. 520W 28th Street, which is also known as the Zaha Hadid Building, is a construction of superlatives. From the unparalleled surroundings to the visionary mind of the acclaimed architect and the extraordinary engineering and constructional feats that Stahlbau Pichler had to pull off to complete the ambitious project, the result is simply magnificent. As explained by Harald Spitaler, the endeavour was both challenging and thrilling and required seemingly contradictory qualities to be brought together – including resistance and transparency, geometry and free-form, and precision and creativity. 

Groundbreaking windows 

BIM (building information modelling), the digital avant-garde of building data modelling, also contributed to the project’s success. Stahlbau Pichler used this system to keep track of the different tradespeople and professionals working on the site. Besides performing all the calculations concerning the building structure itself, the system was able to accurately and precisely determine the completed building’s energy and acoustic performance, even during the planning stage. The system also allowed Stahlbau Pichler’s engineers to meet the necessary requirements in terms of design, privacy and security, not least through the construction of 200 automatic windows that can be opened horizontally along the façade and yet form a coherent whole with the static part of the glass. This innovative solution is the first of its kind to be implemented worldwide. “Our elegant electric windows seem to flow into one, merging seamlessly into the overall building structure and offering an unobstructed view of the breathtaking surroundings completely in line with our clients’ requirements,” says Spitaler.

He adds that the elaborate façades were manufactured exclusively by Stahlbau Pichler in its headquarters in Bolzano, yet conform to the ASTM and AAMA US certification standards. A team of 12 people worked solely on this project for 18 months. The list of materials used was equally as impressive and included 125,000 kilograms of aluminium, 10 metric tons of steel, 2,800 square meters of glass panelling (of which 40% was shaped glass) and 350 square meters of curved insulated glass. Once complete, the façade was transported to New York by ship.

However, the adventure was far from over. To ensure that it met the strict US safety standards, the façade had to be put through its paces by a thorough inspection, during which its resilience to wind and other extreme sources of pressure was tested using a 2,500 horsepower aircraft engine. This marked the first time that any of Stahlbau Pichler’s numerous façade projects had been subjected to such a requirement. “This, too, was an interesting experience from which we could learn,” explains Spitaler, adding that “It is commissions like these that make our work so exciting.” He concludes by saying that Stahlbau Pichler once again succeeded in implementing that special something the clients were looking for: “This was all thanks to our employees’ knowledge and expertise and South Tyrol’s great strength – the combination of Italian creativity and German precision”.