Silver (and Steel) Linings

2020’s Landmark Projects

The construction industry has managed to overcome some massive hurdles in 2020. Despite a range of challenges, from orders to halt work during the shutdown to navigating new health and safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the industry kept going. As the year draws to a close, it is time to celebrate some of its notable success stories.

A dazzlingly tall skyscraper has risen above New York City. At 1,550 feet, the record-breaking Central Park Tower will be the tallest residential building in the world. The 131-story, $3 billion building is located on 57th Street, nestled between Columbus Circle and the Plaza District, overlooking Central Park in a highly visible location where it is sure to become an iconic structure. Fashioned of glass, satin-finished stainless steel, and other materials, the reflective exterior of the sleek, skinny tower is eye-catching for more than just its height.

The 57th Street location is also known as Billionaire’s Row – and no wonder. The tower’s 179 ultra-luxury condos start at $6.9 million and go up to a whopping $63 million. Sizes range from studio suites to four bedrooms, full-floor, duplex, and triplex homes. The first units went on sale in May 2020.

For the multimillion-dollar price tag, New York’s elite will enjoy roomy floor plans, immense floor-to-ceiling windows, and only the finest appliances, finishes, and fixtures. Residents will have access to three floors of luxury amenities including an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, outdoor playground, ballroom, giant outdoor terrace, screening rooms, lounge, bar, conference rooms, and wellness center with a half-court basketball court, squash court, sauna, steam room, and treatment rooms. The first seven stories of Central Park Tower will be occupied by a 300,000-square-foot Nordstrom’s flagship store.

The tower’s architectural firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, is well-versed in super-tall structures and their complications. The team has designed nine out of one hundred of the world’s tallest buildings, including Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will reach over 3,280 feet high upon completion, edging out Dubai’s Burj Khalifa to become the tallest building on the planet. With this experience in hand, the team strategically designed Central Park Tower to maximize views of Central Park and Manhattan.

Where the residential space begins, on the eastern side, a portion of the building is cantilevered to create more views of the park. Structural elements are carefully tucked away between units, allowing for huge windows and a spacious layout. Entertainment and living areas are located in the corners of the units to create the fullest range of views in the most used rooms.

The shutdown only temporarily suspended construction in March, so COVID-19 has had minimal impact on the schedule. Extell Development, the company behind the project, still expects to finish construction by the original completion date, the end of this year.

Meanwhile, in Houston, Texas, Steven Holl Architects has been busy blazing a new concept for museum buildings. Opened in November 2020, the Kinder Building is the newest addition to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) and the final component of the museum’s eight-year plan to improve and expand its facilities.

The striking structure boasts an exterior of semi-opaque, vertical glass tubes that are illuminated at night to create an otherworldly glow which hints at the whimsical modern art within. A work of art in itself, the expressive exterior also serves a practical purpose. The glass covering prevents the concrete structure beneath from absorbing all the heat of the sweltering Texas sun.

The building’s 100,000-plus square feet of gallery space are thoughtfully laid out to allow open flow, flexibility, and ongoing views of surrounding gardens, which are an important component of the overall design. The building is “characterized by porosity, opening the ground floor at all elevations,” stevenholl.com reports. “Seven gardens slice the perimeter, marking points of entry and punctuating the elevations.” Green trellises provide shade to prevent glare from the outdoors.

The Kinder Building’s unique, canopy-like roof captures the grandeur of the Texas sky and represents the clouds above. The groundbreaking design creates a welcoming space filled with natural light that is carefully channelled so as not to damage any artwork on display. Concave curves allow sunlight “to slip in with precise measure and quality, perfect for top-lit galleries,” stevenholl.com reports.

“The undersides of the curved ceiling become light reflectors, catching and sliding the light across each unique gallery experience. These curved slices of light shape the gallery spaces organically in a unique way related to the organic qualities of the lush vegetation and water characterizing the new campus. Rather than mechanical and repetitive, the light is organic and flowing echoing the movement of the galleries.”

Parliament Hill’s Centre Block building in Ottawa, Canada is getting a major facelift. The project is expected to be the nation’s largest heritage restoration ever. The imposing, Gothic revival building is a well-known national symbol and welcomes more than 350,000 visitors each year. The site will be closed to tourists for years during the rehabilitation, not reopening until as late as 2029.

The Centre Block restoration and modernization project is so big that it will undergo multiple phases, with project managers determining the next steps at the close of each phase. Therefore, predicting exact cost estimates and schedules is tricky, and these may not be entirely known until the project progresses. The joint venture with PCL and EllisDon is expected to take around a decade to complete.

In 1916, a fire devastated Centre Block’s predecessor, killing seven people in the process. Iron fire doors saved the Library of Parliament. Opened in 1920 and completed in 1927, Centre Block rose from the rubble to house the Senate and the House of Commons. During the rehabilitation, the House of Commons has relocated to the newly restored West Block, and the Senate Chamber has moved to the newly-renovated Senate of Canada Building.

Restoration will address a number of pressing issues including crumbling mortar, asbestos remediation, seismic upgrades, and ageing electrical, water, and mechanical systems. The work will also bring the building up to date as far as modern security and technological needs.

The project includes the construction of a new, underground Parliament Welcome Centre that will create program space for the Parliamentary Precinct and connect the East, West, and Centre Block buildings, maximizing flow throughout the area. Work continued throughout 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with special precautions being taken to maintain health and safety.

The Centre Block restoration and modernization project is part of a sweeping, multi-decade plan to renew the entire Parliamentary Precinct. The plan will deal with the deterioration of the nation’s twentieth-century Parliament buildings, the need for twenty-first-century security standards that maintain safety while allowing visitors access, and modernizing buildings while staying true to the structures’ heritage and character.

Near the end of 2020, it is encouraging to see that despite shutdowns and challenges posed by COVID-19, two enormous projects have been completed and one has kept plowing ahead on a steady course. As we see a new tower touch the sky, a new museum reimagine how to house art, and a heritage project restore a rich past, we can look forward to what 2021 has in store as the construction industry continues to push forward with exciting projects.

Share the Road

COVID-19 has created new concerns and complications for mass transit. Physical distancing is challenging – if not impossible – on subways, buses, and trains. For instance, when encountering just 30 percent capacity – an estimated total of 510,000 riders each day – passengers on Toronto’s public transit would be unable to maintain a safe distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the Toronto Transit Commission. This challenge has been seen throughout countless cities over the past year.

March 3, 2021, 5:55 AM EST