Historically the tower has served to communicate to the masses. Cathedrals, demonstrated the awe-inspiring power of God through their great height and structural disposition. They also marked the passage of time, through the ringing of their bells. The medieval tower, visible and audible from great distances, served as a communal focus and early form of mass media.
Contemporary towers, though built for different purposes, still communicate varied messages. Their dramatic scale and iconographic status allow them to communicate to a mass audience. At an urban scale they form visual markers and collective symbols. Their presence proliferates through images and icons, making them emblems of corporations, cities, and nations. 5 Times Square (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, New York, 2002)
Marking the corner of Seventh Avenue and the “New 42nd Street,” the 5 Times Square building forms a sleek new addition to the animated architecture of Times Square. The tower’s angular massing and diagonal lines play off the visual cacophony of Times Square, generating a design that blends into the context by transforming the architecture into signage.
The mass of the tower is broken down through a series of cuts and folds in the façade, emphasizing a prismatic volume on the corner. The cladding accentuates the prow-shaped corner figure, employing taut silver glass on the corner, and a horizontally banded glass on the sides. A saw- tooth horizontal texture creates a radiating patterned overlay on the façade adjacent to the prow. The geometry of the tower avoids right angles, adding to the tower’s angular appearance and camouflaging its mass.
Signage bands run up the side of the tower, reinforcing the diagonal piece, and animating the facades. Ernst and Young’s illuminated corporate logo crowns the top, while at the base the lower floors are covered in a jumbled assortment of illuminated billboards.
The proliferation of billboards and illuminated signs in Times Square is the result of a zoning regulation, which is rooted in historic preservation and intended to recall the early days of Broadway glitter and neon. The law dictates that new buildings in the Time Square area incorporate a variety of illuminated signs into new designs. The billboards often obscure views from the interiors, but the vertical surfaces get a higher rent per square foot than the horizontal surfaces of the floor plate behind them. Buildings on Times Square act as an armature for the multistory animated billboards.
The explosive and animated graphics that splash across building facades in Times Square create an unprecedented neon landscape. Jumbo televisions and pixilated facades saturate the neighborhood. Buildings like 5 Times Square embrace the dynamic new media, transforming architecture into ecstatic iconographic images.LVMH Tower (Christian de Portzamparc, New York, 1999)
This slender skyscraper is designed as the American headquarters for the fashion conglomerate Moet Henessey-Louis Vuitton. The twenty-story tower, occupying a slender site on 57th Street, distinguishes itself by departing from the city fabric in its geometry and materiality.
The tower transforms the set-back pyramidal building form derived from the New York City zoning envelope and camouflages it in a series of diaphanous layers of glass. The curtain wall seems to perform a sophisticated striptease with layer upon layer of glass concealing and revealing the building within. Portzamparc uses a combination of glass types and finishes to create the ephemeral effect. Clear, green, and low-iron glass are all used to differentiate the layers. Sand-blasted patterns on the glass create a diagonal pattern on the façade.
At night, the edge of the fold is illuminated with cold cathode lights that shift in color from violet to green to red. As the headquarters for a fashion empire, the LVMH Tower presents itself as an ephemeral, ever changing image.
In a city drive by orthogonal efficiency and price per square foot, this idiosyncratic jewel of a skyscraper embodies the luxury of geometric complexity in the service of high-style design.AIA Tower (OMA Asia, Hong Kong, 1998)
Despite advances made in the realm of structures, materials, and systems, the stylistic evolution of the skyscraper has occurred primarily in its cladding. The design strategies employed by OMA Asia reflect a “skin-based” methodology, which acknowledges the commercial realities of building in the real-estate-drive context of Hong Kong. Their cladding design for the AIA Tower assumes a “site” that is ten inches deep-the thickness of the building envelope.
AIA Tower is a straightforward rectangular extrusion with chamfered corners. It distinguishes itself through its cladding, which consists of alternating vertical bands of two different shades of blue glass. The mullion spacing and width of glass panels varies to create a random striped pattern during the day. An array of cold cathode lights integrated into the façade transforms the building at night, creating a spiraling neon spectacle.
In the words of architect Aaron Tan, “We took the most exciting and dynamic aesthetic element of Hong Kong-its neon landscape-as a graphic metaphor and wrapped our building in it.” The city of Hong Kong is abstracted and replicated in the skin of the building. By treating the city skyline as a “graphic landscape,” OMA Asia sees high-rise design operating on the level of surface. And for the building itself, the incorporation of an urban phenomenon into its architectural expression suggests a compressed contextualism – belying a strategy of camouflage.
By internalizing the randomness found in the Hong Kong skyline, OMA Asia has created a microcosmic distillation, a strategy to both blend in and stand out. The AIA Tower holds a conceptual mirror up to the city, filters the image through its own architectural expression, and reproduces it in its own facades. The result is the skyscraper as multivalent urban figure, slipping effortlessly from foreground to background.The Center (Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man, Hong Kong, 1997)
This building, sited in a dense neighborhood in Hong Kong is best known for its riotous, multicolored night-time lighting display. Designed by local architects Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man, this 73 story, 997 foot (302 meter) pyramid-topped tower is modest by day and spectacular by night.
The plan of the building consists of two rotated squares, creating a multifaceted exterior expression with eight corners. This simple design tactic doubles the number of sought-after corner offices.
At the base, the building mass is lifted off the ground to reveal its corner bracing members, expressing its structure. A series of plazas and reflecting pools occupy the ground floor of the complex. The openness of its ground floor stands in sharp contrast to the densely built, fine-grain texture of its urban context.
By day, the reflective glass curtain wall is typical of the mirrored urban scape of Hong Kong. At night, the façade is animated by thousands of cold cathode lights that are integrated into the curtail walk, transforming the building into a choreographed light show. The multi-colored and pulsating tower becomes a pyrotechnic architectural spectacle.
The perpetual spectacle of light and color epitomizes Hong Kong’s insatiable need for architectural novelty. Its implications for the skyscraper as a form of mass media suggest that the skyscraper has become a kind of holographic urban beacon.Cheung Kong Center (Leo Daly with Cesar Pelli, Hong Kong, 1999)
Built on the site of the former Hilton Hotell, the 951 foot (290 meter) Cheung Kong Center occupies a site between the Bank of China and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. The building’s straightforward massing, a simple square plan extrusion, belies the spectacle of the building’s illuminated stainless-steel façade design.
The building is the headquarters for Cheung Kong Properties, one of Hong Kong’s largest property developers. Determined to make a bold statement without sacrificing efficiency, Cheung Kong chairman Li Ka Shing gave the architects free reign on the design of the facades. The curtain wall design consists of reflective silver glass and a grid of stainless-steel tubular profiles. The daytime effect is a mirrored monolithic form beneath a glistening woven lattice.
At night, the tower is illuminated by thousands of fiber-optic points of light and by powerful spotlights evenly distributed over the façade. The spotlights illuminate the stainless-steel members and give the building a delicate metallic luminosity. The fiber-optic point lights can be programmed to generate animated effects like a giant, seventy-story pixilated LED screen.
On special occasions such as Christmas and Chinese New Year, the tower transforms into a hallucinatory special-effects machine, producing giant animated graphics visible from miles away. Cheung Kong Center epitomizes the idea that a skyscraper is a gigantic form of mass media. Legible at great distances, it broadcasts its indomitable presence.