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Super Luxury Services at Super-Tall Heights

Gary Pomerantz, executive vice president of building systems, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff discusses MEP engineering challenges of 432 Park Avenue

A super-slender building has a very small floorplate, so if we can minimize the space requirements of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) services, that’s a huge advantage for the owner. Residential buildings are not designed like offices. With an office, the space has to be very flexible so it can accommodate different types of tenants, so extra space is built into the ceilings and mechanical rooms. With residential building space, it’s very specific. Everything needs to fit perfectly.

mep-engineering-432-park-avenueThere’s a very sleek look that has to be maintained on these luxury towers, and we have to coordinate with the architect’s vision. A building like 432 Park Avenue is put together like a watch. If you’re comfortable but you don’t see what’s making you comfortable, that’s a good design. One of the toughest parts of what we do is fitting everything in the same space. One possible solution is to put the ductwork or pipework in the ceiling, but you don’t want to give up 15ft 6in ceilings because that’s what sells the space.

Enabling Flexible Apartment Layouts

We designed the building systems so that people can set up their homes the way they want – they don’t have to work around the systems. But the dimensions of the rooms are very large, and we have to design ways to distribute air without breaking up the spaces or putting systems in the middle of a room. You have to do it in a delicate and balanced way, rather than blowing air across the room and giving people’s hair the Einstein look. We carry out extensive modelling to simulate air flows, using the same simulation programs that are used to design wings for jet airplanes. We also have systems to introduce outdoor air into each residence – if you’re 1,000ft up, you can’t open your windows for fresh air because it’s a different climate zone up there.

Ensuring Comfort During Cold New York Winters

Last winter the temperature in New York didn’t rise above freezing for six weeks. We have to make sure our design provides comfort everywhere in the space, it can’t be a little colder if you’re near the window. These are big pieces of glass, so condensation was a real concern. We did many, many studies on exactly how to position the air slots so that warm air would bathe the glass to minimize the downdraughts. We also introduced air below the windows in concealed devices so that if any cold air does fall down the glass, it hits that warm air on the floor and is warmed back up.

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1,400ft Is a Long Way to Distribute Power and Water

Slenderness is not the only challenge with these buildings – 1,400ft is a long way to distribute power and water. If a column of water was run up the whole length of the building, the pressures would be enormous. At 432 Park Avenue, we’ve essentially broken up the building to a stack of six small high-rise buildings. That way shaft sizes and mechanical rooms are smaller, and it allows us to control the pressures better. Each of these super-tall luxury buildings is a prototype, but the systems we design for these buildings will eventually filter down to the more average size ones. We’re setting a new standard.

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