SOM’s Green Terracotta Facade for Disney Headquarters Takes Shape

Currently under construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) 4 Hudson Square looks set to become a new destination in Hudson Square, an emerging neighborhood west of Manhattan’s Soho. As Disney’s future headquarters in New York, the building is the company’s first purpose-built site in the city in decades. The neighborhood once supported New York’s printing industry, but today it consists mostly of buildings with massive floor plates, many of which have been converted into offices and art spaces. Occupying the block bounded by Vandam, Varick, Spring, and Hudson streets, SOM’s design reflects the area’s zoning and building code requirements in a classic Manhattan fashion while incorporating a more modern facade.

4 Hudson Square is expected to complete construction in 2024. Disney’s new home‘s podium rises ten stories before pushing up two terracotta-clad towers that span another nine stories, towering 320 feet above from the street. The building will house offices, production, newsrooms, executive spaces, a screening room and a pair of outdoor terraces. Live production studios should be located below ground level in an environment isolated from outside sound and vibration. When complete, the complex’s 1.2 million square feet of space will become, as SOM partner Colin Koop described it, Aa “vertical city of everything Disney”.

The building will include floor plates up to 85,000 square feet. (Courtesy of SOM)
layout of the entrance of an office building
The entrance to Disney’s new building hopes to welcome the public to a fast-evolving Hudson Square anchor. (Courtesy of SOM)

Koop said Disney “wanted to let the public into the building” with an active ground floor, and mindful of its mass, seeks to “stand out by fitting in”. The ground floor contains space for food and other amenities for the public, and in order to ‘fit in’, the design team took a close look at the surrounding historic buildings. Koop described many of the buildings as “muscular”, noting that there was a large amount of unadorned masonry and that most buildings had perforated windows. The facades and massing are defined by recessed flat faces in the shape of a wedding cake, reflecting the setback requirements that have shaped taller structures since 1916. The decision to extend both towers beyond the tenth floor has was made possible by zoning, with permitted heights along avenues. Koop said that while the zoning initially seemed very restrictive, it “released a lot of creativity” because it gave the design team a set of parameters in which to experiment.

facade of an office building under construction
Terracotta columns, three wide in parts of the facade, define the buildings exterior. (Joe Woolhead)

The design team wanted a more “opaque” building, again reflecting Disney’s intention to establish a more public anchor in the area, but not all glass, like the new towers to the west. Terracotta offered a solution in that it left significant space for windows and ornamentation that was materially compatible with the historic buildings and also consistent with the environmental performance objectives of the project. The double- and triple-column terracotta panels will give the building a scale that can be lost on the all-glass facades it contrasts with and establish visual continuity from the square windows that travel from the second floor. to the top of the towers.

close up of a terracotta facade
Terracotta’s matte finish provides a more contemporary texture for the long-used material. (Joe Woolhead)

Koop said the color green was chosen for the terracotta early in the design process, to maintain a sense of place with the neighborhood’s older terracotta facades. The design team looked at “hundreds” of green swatches, experimenting with variations in color and transparency. The final choice, made by NBK, is darker, richer and less saturated than the terracotta found on neighboring facades. The design team chose a matte finish rather than a glossy one, a texture that encapsulated the modernized aesthetic of the engraving district’s history that they sought to echo. Koop noted that the color of the glaze changes in sunlight, resulting in a facade that is more dynamic than neighboring masonry facades.

terracotta facade under construction
The terracotta grill has taken shape over the past few months. (Joe Woolhead)

Outside the local context, terracotta has established itself as a facade product for many companies in the city. SOM has already used the material on its 28&7, an office building in Chelsea, and Park Loggia, a 32-story tower on the Upper West Side. As for the benefits of choosing terracotta as a facade material, Koop said A that many manufacturers have production lines capable of producing unitized facades with the material, and that even with high quality products, prices are lower because there are better supply chains. Moving away from double-glazed glass facades also has environmental benefits, particularly in terms of energy consumption and heat gain, with Koop mentioning that the design team had in mind the new code requirements of New York when designing 4 Hudson Square. Although the project was grandfathered in the old code regulations due to its original approval date, Koops said they wanted to design an “enduring emblem”, noting that “considerable thought has gone into devoted to it”. The building runs entirely on electricity and is aiming for LEED Platinum certification.

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