Smart architecture takes New York trash to treasure

A Manhattan municipal garage turns out to be a good neighbor after all.
10 May, 2017
When the City of New York planned a new maintenance garage for garbage trucks, no one wanted to live near them, especially not in TriBeCa.
Residents in that trendy part of the pricey Big Apple sued the city, angry about the Bloomberg administration's intentional decision to place the sanitation department in their backyards instead of a blighted neighborhood or minority community.

With the right architects – and the right aluminium façade – the award-winning Manhattan Districts 1/2/5 Garage saved the day. The building accommodates 250 workers, more than 150 sanitations trucks, plus fueling and maintenance space, but neighbors and passers-by see a double-skin façade of 2,600 perforated aluminium fins that are both aesthetically pleasing and boost the sustainability factor.
Images: Dattner
The building, designed by Dattner Architects and their partners, achieved a LEED Gold certification with additional features that include a green roof. It softens the view for affluent high-rise neighbors, while at the same time protecting the roof membrane and boosting both storm water and thermal performance. The gray water collected in the system is used to wash the trash trucks, flush toilets and other tasks. When combined with low-flow fixtures, the system reduces consumption by an impressive 77 percent.

The plans went through a few changes from initial bid to completion. They included the sale of part of the first floor space to the UPS delivery service, and a reduction in the overall height to just 36.6 meters. An especially intriguing twist developed over the storage space for 5,000 tons of road salt, which was initially meant to be located at the garage. It still is, but on an adjacent site and within a complementary structure that was built to look like a public art sculpture, rising nearly 70 feet along the Hudson River.
In the end, the garage was built with five levels, including the ground floor UPS facilities and entrance for the trash trucks. The second floor is parking for small vehicles, while the third has 30-foot ceilings and houses the maintenance operations. The fourth and fifth floors have 24-foot ceilings and parking space, while all of the meeting rooms, employee showers and related facilities face TriBeCa on the building's south side. What the aluminium fins do is change the exterior so that no one knows that.

"The industrial-scale structure doesn't look industrial to passing motorists," explains Fred Bernstein for Architectural Record. "Indeed, it seems of a piece with Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum a mile north, and even more so with Piano's massive Jerome L. Greene Science Center for Columbia University, nearing completion at 125th Street and Broadway, with its glass facades and repeating metal fins."
Images: Dattner,
At 0.7 meters deep, the "garbage garage" fins allow light into the building and serve to reduce solar heat in the daytime because they pivot with the sun's rays. At night, the lighting behind the fins is attractive without ever revealing the interior. Even a powerful HVAC system was installed to eliminate odors that might otherwise waft to the street.

In addition to its other accolades, the aluminium-fin sanitation garage made the Top 10 Green Buildings of 2017 list at National Geographic Australia. Closer to home, though, the building won over the angry neighbors, and has become a point of community pride driven by its innovative design and materials.
Banner image: WXY Studio