Glass and Glazing Bring New Life to 1271 Sixth Avenue

By Luly Hernandez

In 1958, the $78 million New York City office tower at 1271 Avenue of the Americas (1271) was constructed, earning accolades, praise and stories—literally and figuratively.

Historically, the structure was known as the Time-Life building, since its primary tenant was Time Inc., the country’s largest magazine publisher in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The building housed the editorial offices of Time, Life, Time/Life International, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, House & Home and Architectural Forum.

At the time, the building was deemed a rare example of mid-century modernism. The lobby’s design and glamor earned its designation as an interior landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The tower was even a setting in the popular AMC TV series Mad Men.

However, facing competition from a busy New York office market, increasingly demanding energy-efficiency requirements, including the need to comply with recently enacted Local Law 97 (LL97), the Time-Life building needed to change. From 2016 to 2020, the tower underwent a major facelift with a complete refurbishment and restoration. The most significant portion was the façade replacement.

Achieving Aesthetics

The tower was originally designed by New York-based architectural firm Harrison, Abramovitz & Harris, which also played a role in the creation of the United Nation headquarters in the 1940s. Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, also a New York-based firm, handled the redesign.

The glass used in the project was essential to achieving the architect’s desired aesthetic. Guardian Glass supplied 300,000 square feet of its SunGuard® SNX 62/27 low-E coating on clear for the renovation. JE Berkowitz, which closed in early 2021, was the glass fabricator, and W&W Glass, of Nanuet, N.Y., was the contract glazier, installing the project’s 470,000 square feet of curtainwall. Turner Construction was the general contractor.

Because the renovation focused so heavily on updating the tower’s glass and
glazing, all of the aforementioned companies had to work together to bring Pei Cobb Freed’s vision a reality.

“One of the more interesting things about the glass used is the opaque pieces that are over the spandrels, and we matched the coloring between the regular-vision glass and the spandrel glass as much as possible. So that was a pretty extensive sampling process, involving not just Guardian, but JE Berkowitz and W&W,” says Katherine Bojsza, a project manager on the Pei Cobb Freed team.

She says 1271 originally used single, monolithic glazing, including in the spandrel area, where there was only a wire mesh insert— there was no insulation in the spandrel area.

“[In the renovation] we used a fully unitized system rather than stick-built, and it has an insulated spandrel,” Bojsza continues. “And insulating glass units (IGU) with a low-E coating [resulted in] a very high-performance facade that was factory-made.” This all allowed the building to be sealed better than it was before the renovation, which produced a structure about 40% more efficient.”

Ensuring the new 1271 Avenue of the Americas was as energy-efficient as possible was a key factor in its redevelopment.

Darijo Babic, director of architectural sales for Guardian Glass, says the renovation modernized the tower and prepared it for New York City’s LL97.

In 2019, New York enacted LL97 as a part of the Climate Mobilization Act in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and help the city achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The law places carbon caps, starting in 2024, on most buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. 1271 Avenue of the Americas has a building area of approximately 2 million square feet. “The significant improvement in thermal performance is a huge benefit,” Babic says. “The original glass was monolithic tinted bronze, and now the building is clad with one of the best performing products in the market. Not only does high-performance, low-E coated glass help reduce energy costs by lowering the needs for artificial lighting and air conditioning, it helps make the building more attractive to companies looking for developers and spaces implementing energy-saving measures.”

In addition to energy efficiency, the new glass and cladding provides 50% more vision area while retaining the essential proportions of the original façade, according to Pei Cobb Freed.

Permitting more natural daylight was another important part in the renovation.

“The benefits of natural light and views are well-documented,” Babic continues. “Employees perform better and report a lower absentee rate if they have access to daylight. And it’s a popular amenity requested by building occupants. The new façade increased the vision glass 50%, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when we consider a project at this scale.”

While upgrading the building to meet energy codes and local laws is important, Damon Mercay, senior project manager at W&W Glass, believes the redesign brings a positive quality that benefits the tenants as well.

“More vision glass in the building [means] opening up the daylight on all of these floors. Just really opening up the wall, from the interior, it looks more updated. You’re seeing [tall] glass, and … it really opened up the floorplan.”

Babic says that moving from a monolithic glass unit to an insulating glass unit can improve acoustics by roughly 20%, which is extremely important in a busy city environment such as New York. The project’s glazing also delivers a 65% improvement on solar heat gain coefficient and reduces U-value to 0.65. The insulating glass units are 1 1 /8-inches and 1 ¼-inches with an argon fill and stainless steel spacers.

Demoing and Recladding

The renovations and refurbishments had some challenges. The tower’s reconstruction was a coordinated effort as it underwent façade updates and demolition simultaneously.

“The building itself… needed to be reclad,” Mercay says. “Rather than over-clad it like we do on some other projects, the design team decided to demolish the building as we were installing. So essentially, you had the demolition contractor working from rigs on the outside of the building, demoing the building going up as we were installing the lower floors … W&W could not set curtainwall panels directly underneath the demolition that was happening above. So it [required] a lot more coordination than we’re typically used to.”

“When there are tenants, construction companies must ensure minimal disruption, which impedes the workflow [of occupants],” Babic says. “Because the building was unoccupied, this project moved quickly, and [Guardian provided] the fabricator with the high volumes of cut tempered glass in a compressed period.”

Honoring the Old With the New

Bojsza says even though the façade was redesigned to bring the tower into the modern era, small details were included as a nod to the structure’s original design.

“[To honor] the rhythm and dimensions of the older façade … which had small vision windows and big, opaque spandrel areas, we basically flipped that relationship. So the proportions are similar, but now we have bigger vision windows and smaller, opaque spandrel areas,” she says. “And what we’ve done is significant from the inside to outside, in terms of the amount of light and glass that you see from inside, which made it marketable, and competed well against those new buildings … that was intentional.”

1271 Avenue of the Americas, 1271 Sixth Avenue, Time-Life—the tower across the street from Radio City Music Hall in the middle of the City That Never Sleeps has had many names and stories. The glass and glazing industry worked to create its next chapter—a story of a sustainable, comfortable work environment with a new look to carry it into its next 50 years.

Luly Hernandez is the assistant editor for USGlass. Email her at
lhernandez@glass.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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