Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Rewriting history

USA Hearst tower: Plans are afoot for a New York landmark with links to a famous publisher and an even more famous film. Adrian Greeman discovers how old and new will be combined

In the 1920s, the great American publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst - immortalised in the film as 'Citizen Kane' - devised a scheme for a grand headquarters building and skyscraper in central New York. A six storey podium was completed but in 1929 the markets crashed and the 40 storey tower phase was never built.

Seventy five years later, the Hearst Corporation is to finish its tower. As befits a landmark building, it will be an unusual structure - an asymmetrical diamond frame, 40 storey building 'hovering' over the original.

Hearst himself used the extraordinary Viennese architect Joseph Urban for the main building. The modern corporation has also looked to Europe, selecting Foster & Partners to complete the midtown Manhattan building; a masonry block sitting on Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets.

The firm has worked with structural engineer Cantor Seinuk - now part of consultant WSP - to create an off-centre core design that uses an unusually strong perimeter structure based on a diagrid. The structural engineer's 'mega-columns' will also help the tower rise above the existing facade - now subject of a New York City preservation order.

'The Foster philosophy is very much to create a clear distinction between old and new in a case like this, ' says partnership director Brandon Haw. Lord Foster's skill in 'creating a dialogue' - with examples like the Reichstag in Germany or the British Museum in London, is possibly what won the job for the firm.

For the Hearst building, rather than try and second guess what the 1920s tower would have been like - and not even a sketch has turned up in research - the idea will be to separate the tower from the lower building.

'It will more or less be suspended over the old building, ' says Haw. Linking the two to where the tower floors begin at level 10 will be a transparent glazed section. The glazing will enclose the older building's four storey high central lobby and courtyard to create cafes, restaurants and meeting areas.

Trees will rise through the naturally lit space.

Inside the facade, the floors have been gutted, although the two lowest floors will remain as an area of shops and subways, and for street level entrances.

'The floor plate of the old building was no use at all for modern purposes, ' says Haw.

The design of the tower above has evolved between architect and engineer, he says. 'The building backs on to a 30 storey residential block which limited views on that side. So we decided to set the tower core against the back wall to give more visibility in the main office areas.'

But an offset core means throwing more strength into the perimeter. Cantor's proposal was a diagrid steel frame with 'no verticals at all', explains Ahmed Rahiminan, the firm's principal vice president who is working with founding partner Ysrael Seinuk on the project.

'Structurally, this is very strong and efficient because the load transfer is not vertical or horizontal, ' he says. It gives extra stiffness. Analysis is a little more complex than a conventional structure, he adds and requires a 'different level of attention', but is by no means exceptional.

Equally, the steelwork on site is not proving over-complex.

Nodes are well within normal experience, says Rahiminan, and the fabrication will combine with pre-assembly of elements before they are erected on site, mainly by bolting, though with some site welding.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.