New York City Icon Shines With New Glass

By Jordan Scott

The Starrett-Lehigh Building in Manhattan, New York features ribbons of windows 8 miles long with floating vents that alternate up and down. The building houses some of the world’s most recognizable brands, such as Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart, in unique workspaces with plenty of natural lighting across 19 floors and 2.3 million square feet. The original windows have existed in the building since the 1930s. Their thermal performance was poor, costing owner RXR Realty money in high electricity bills due to overexerted heating and cooling systems.

A Historic Landmark

Starrett-Lehigh was named a New York City landmark in 1986. The Landmark Preservation Committee (LPC) had to approve changes to the building as a result. Committee members were skeptical about replacing the historic windows at first.

“The project was too big for refurbishment to be a realistic option,” says Bill Wilder, director of technical sales at Graham Architectural Products. “Typically, historic reviewers look to see if what’s there can be fixed. Some people felt the old windows should stay, but it was cost-prohibitive with the energy lost to heating and cooling the building. They tried weatherstripping, but it didn’t perform well, and a warranty can’t be done in that case.”

No off-the-shelf solution met the standards of the LPC. Graham was approached to create a solution that did not disrupt the look of the building.

“Landmark was insistent that the replacement windows be as close to the original as possible. The final custom units are very close,” says Michael Ankuda, senior project manager at Boddewyn Gaynor Architects.

According to Wilder, the Committee rejected the first samples presented because they took away from the distinctive look of the building.

“We were excited to develop a product not available in the industry. The muntin grids all had relatively narrow sightlines while the operable vents had heavy sightlines. No one in the industry was making those,” he says. “It took more than six months to create the SR6700, but everyone on the project was patient because there was no other option.”

The SR6700 achieved the narrow sightline of the original windows and maintained the appearance of a floating vent. Another challenge for Graham was putting the new windows with thermal breaks into the small footprint of the frame to achieve decent thermal performance.

“We didn’t want the windows to be problematic and not meet codes,” says Wilder. “Codes will drive the next wave of historic window replacement.”

Blocking Sound

Another benefit of replacing the windows rather than refurbishing them was the improved sound-blocking ability of new window technology.

“There’s a helicopter port ten blocks north of the Starrett-Lehigh. Before the windows were replaced you could tell whenever a helicopter was taking off or landing. Now you can’t hear them and there’s no more draft.”

Michèle Boddewyn, president of Boddewyn Gaynor Architects, adds, “The building is also next to a high-way which was a distraction. While the windows weren’t designed with acoustical properties, the ability to block that sound is a wonderful benefit.”

Precision Work

After getting approval from the Landmark Preservation Committee, Graham had to calculate the precise measurements of each of the approximately 5,000 windows.

“We calculated and precision-matched the various angles of the mullions. We appreciate that type of thorough process investment on our side,” said Wilder. “If off by a few degrees each error would impact the next window’s placement. There couldn’t be one narrower at the end to make up for any difference. They had to be custom fabricated, so we went into it with a design-build mentality.”

According to Ankuda, only two of the 5,000 windows were broken during installation. Installation was done mostly by Ecker Window Corp. in Yonkers, N.Y.

“The installation started at the top and worked its way down. A major challenge is that the installation was done from the interior. Because the Starrett-Lehigh is occupied, it involved night work,” he says.

The general contractor would prep the rooms the night, before and the windows would be installed the next night.

“Management worked with the ten-ants closely to relocate people temporarily. It was a logistical challenge, but it went smoothly,” adds Boddewyn.

Some of the original windows will be left in place, according to Wilder.

“We always intended to leave some; less than 5 percent remain of the original windows,” he says.

The renovation first began seven years ago, so Ankuda is satisfied to see the project nearly complete. Glass installation began three years ago in spring 2015 and was scheduled to be finished mid-summer 2018.

“You would never know the windows were replaced. You can’t pick up on the reflectivity,” says Ankuda.

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