Times Square gained its latest sign when the logo of The New York Times was installed on the Eighth Avenue façade of its new Renzo Piano-designed headquarters tower. But what looks like a simple sign—if a 110-ft.-long logo set as a 10,116-point version of the newspaper’s iconic Fraktur font can be called simple—is actually an intricate skin assembled from nearly a thousand separate custom-designed pieces, each a painted, extruded aluminum sleeve 3 inches in diameter.
When The New York Times decided to leave the antiquated building it had occupied since 1913, it held a design competition for its new headquarters and awarded the project to Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Piano’s elegant design is a tower of floor-to-ceiling, ultra-clear glass walls, veiled with a second skin of horizontal white ceramic rods on an aluminum frame. The beautiful diaphanous rods are also functional, shielding the glass walls from direct sunlight and reducing the heat gain that usually requires tinted glass, while bouncing light onto interior walls. The result has been called the city’s most important skyscraper since Eero Saarinen’s CBS Building of 1965.
But the building also borders Times Square; it was the newspaper’s pre-1913 building on 42nd Street, in fact, that gave the district its name. Consequently, the design of the new building was subject to the special zoning requirements established in 1993 to preserve the area’s unique character. The zoning requires that signs be large (specifying minimum sizes based on ratios of sign area to overall elevation area) and applied (added to the building rather than subtly integrated).
The question, then, was how to add a block-long, 15-ft.-tall black letter logo to the front of a minimalist building without obstructing the view of the people working inside? The answer was to break the sign up into smaller pieces, 959 of them to be exact. Each letter in the Times logo was rasterized, divided into narrow horizontal strips ranging from 26 for the “i” in Times to 161 for the “y” in York.
Each piece was then fabricated into a three-dimensional form that could be fitted over the existing ceramic sunscreen rods. A number of shapes were considered, but the Pentagram team ultimately decided on a “beak” shape that added 2 in. of projection to enhance the sign’s street-level visibility. The result is a sign that is dramatically legible from the outside, but can barely be seen from the inside. It at once satisfies the area’s signage requirements while integrating with the structure’s distinctive façade.
“This exemplifies the rare case of perfection between architecture and signage conceived in a totally integrated execution. The application technique is innovative and truly unique to the building. The feeling of modern technology expressed through the banding strips of the skin, contrasted with the Fraktur font, reflect where the future of the company is headed.”
“The design detailing of this solution creates a perfect marriage of sign and building façade, achieving a bold yet subtle statement in a single gesture.”
Michael Bierut (principal in charge), Tracey Cameron (project manager), Michelle Leong, Tamara McKenna