Seen from FDR drive, the Queensborough Bridge and several vital campus facilities, this addition to the Rockefeller Universitycentralised chiller plant combines industry and elegance. Sleek metal ribbing imposes a grid of visual order that belies the complicated, curved machinery enclosed within the building’s glass walls.
The plant’s prominent location inspired university officials to create an attractive structure; but they also wanted a building low enough to preserve the campus’ dramatic views of the East River. Since the plant is clearly visible from the university’s main dining hall, the design team chose to turn the three large chillers and the interconnecting pipe work into a visual spectacle.
The philosophy behind the design is that what is visually understandable is pleasing. The abstract shapes, which are vibrantly painted in all the colors of the spectrum in accordance with the building code, is both a delightful exhibition for viewers and an opportunity to appreciate the rational functionalism of machinery.
To showcase Rockefeller University’s colorful chillers, RMJM designed a 25-foot high enclosure. Bordered by glass curtain walls, the façade is frosted on the side facing FDR Drive’s 63rd Street curve, and transparent to the rest of the campus. Always lit, the building serves as a beacon to motorists and campus pedestrians alike. The spectator can simply gaze at the readily comprehensible panorama of the building’s exterior or allow their gaze to wander inside the building for a more challenging scene. Through design creativity and vision, RMJM transformed this potentially obtrusive and repellent industrial facility into an artistic structure that celebrates, rather than hides, its function.