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Feature Story - September 2004

Dodging a Bullet

Hearst Corp. Tower Skirts Steel Price Hike

By Amy S. Choi

Thanks to lucky timing, the steel for the Hearst Corp.'s new 42-story tower at Eighth Avenue and 57th Street was ordered before the jump in steel prices earlier this year.

Timing is everything in construction, and for the Hearst Corp., which broke ground on its new $500 million, 42-story steel-clad headquarters in Midtown in May 2003, the timing of its steel procurement couldn't have been better.

The new 856,000-sq.-ft. headquarters at Eighth Avenue and 57th Street uses 12,000 tons of steel for its innovative steel diagrid, a triangular steel bracing that frames the majority of the tower without any of the traditional vertical columns. The steel will be fleshed out with a glass curtain wall and will be visible from the interior and exterior of the building. It is the key design and structural element in the building.

Lucky for the Hearst Corp., the steel for the $250 million core and shell of the building was all purchased before steel prices skyrocketed last year.


"The way that the job was awarded, it just fell out that all of our orders and fabrication were in place before the spike in prices," said Mark Pulsfort, project executive for New York City-based Turner Construction Co., the construction manager on the job. "The majority of our steel was ahead of the curve, and we'd ordered all of our major components, including our jumbo sections and steel framing beams."

According to Engineering News-Record, the cost for steel products increased 20-60 percent in the first quarter of this year. With steel comprising up to 10 percent of the overall construction cost of many office buildings, the price spikes could have changed design plans of other major local steel projects.

"A lot of other people seemed to get caught up in the pricing issues, but this was a matter of lucky timing," said Kevin Ducey, project manager for Woodbury, N.J-based Cornell and Co., the erectors on the project. "There are quite a few high-rise steel projects going up in New York City, and there are rumors that some might be on hold now because of the steel costs."

On the Hearst project, however, because its big-ticket purchases were already in place, there were no significant changes to the design of the building or delays in the procurement, and it is on schedule for delivery in late 2006. The erection of the stainless steel cladding, which began in the spring, is expected to top out in March, and the project team will begin work on the glass curtain wall this month. Interior work will begin in April 2006.

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The diagrid structure, which is much lighter than conventional structural columns of steel, also decreased the amount of steel used in the project as a whole, helping to stem the costs of the project. The building, which uses 12,000 tons of steel, will use up to 21 percent less steel tonnage than a traditional tower of its magnitude, which would have been more than 15,000 tons of steel.

"There's no redundant steel here," Ducey said. "The whole building is light because of its structural design."

Ultimately, the project team only had one steel order to place after prices rose - it was for building additional window frames - but the cost was unsubstantial.

"Cost is always an issue in going through conceptual design and design development, and obviously our evaluation is based on current costs and market conditions," Pulsfort said. "With us, as far as the purchasing process was concerned, we hit a small window where we were able to go ahead and not have it affect the design at all."

The steel makes the new Hearst tower an awe-inspiring sight.

"It really is spectacular," said Ann Daniels, senior associate for Adamson Associates Architects, the Toronto-based executive architects on the project. "Everyone is happily surprised at what a robust and unusual a structure it is."

Part of the project's uniqueness is its blending of two structures. The original Hearst headquarters building at 959 Eighth Ave. was built in 1927 and is a historic landmark structure that needs to be preserved. Therefore, the project team is building the modern, flexible steel structure within the preserved façade of the original six-story building, with the steel diagrid beginning at the 10th floor of the building.

Though the team is keeping the façade, it is using modern steel megacolumns to brace the original front of the building up to the point where the much lighter diagrid structure takes over.

"Fitting the old into the new can be tricky," Ducey said. "It's a heavy-duty renovation job to reinforce the building, and then we are installing the new steel façade rather than tying the two together."

Tishman Speyer Properties, of New York, N.Y., was hired by Hearst in 2000 to serve as development managers of the project. As development managers, the firm selected the design team, hired the construction manager and is overseeing the construction process, said Bruce Phillips, senior director of design and construction for Tishman Speyer.

Phillips said working within a landmarked structure posed a significant challenge to the site.

"We had to do a surgical demolition of the interior of the building, but it has allowed for a tremendous 35,000-sq.-ft. atrium space," Phillips said.

In July, when Phillips was interviewed for this story, steel had reached the 14th floor. The Hearst Corp. is expected to take occupancy of the building in 2006.



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