Principal Thoughts

One Vanderbilt

After four years of intensive structural design and another four years of extensive construction observation and special inspection, Severud Associates celebrated on September 14, 2020, the opening of One Vanderbilt, a state-of-the-art tower that at 1,401 ft. in height is the tallest office building in Midtown and the second tallest office tower in all of New York City.  Located immediately to the west of Grand Central Terminal, the building joins lofty neighbors such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park as a prominent feature of the Manhattan skyline.

Developed by partners SL Green Realty Corp., Hines, and National Pension Service of Korea, One Vanderbilt presents a graceful design by acclaimed architects Kohn Pedersen Fox.  The building’s simple geometry of tapering prismatic volumes is clad in alternating strips of glass and spandrel panels embellished with terra cotta accents that acknowledge its proximity to Grand Central and other historical buildings in East Midtown.  Behind the curtainwall stands a high-rise structural frame composed of 26,000 tons of steel.  The total floor area is 1.7 million sq. ft. and most of the floor plates are free of interior columns, with beams that span up to 70 ft.; strict adherence to performance criteria keeps vibrations within acceptable limits.

Like other Severud high-rise designs, One Vanderbilt employed a steel-first erection sequence pioneered by the firm in the 1970s.  Columns, girders, and lateral bracing at the core were designed to stand alone to a maximum height of 12 stories.  As steel erection proceeded, reinforced concrete shear walls were placed below.  Using a self-climbing form system within the core cells and hand-set forms from outside the core, concrete work followed the structural steel up the building, usually within six floors from the top but never more than 12.  This approach allowed construction manager AECOM Tishman to accommodate potential delays in concrete placement while maximizing the impact of steel’s speedy erection time on the overall schedule.

The core walls, which are the primary component of the lateral force resisting system, are 30 in. thick with a compressive strength of 14,000 psi at their base.  Moving up the building, the concrete strength decreases in steps down to a minimum of 6,000 psi and at some locations, the wall thickness is reduced to 24 in.  Grade 80 steel reinforcement was used throughout.

Control of lateral drift and motion are critical to the performance of all high-rise buildings and especially for supertalls.  Accordingly, the concrete shear walls are augmented by steel outrigger trusses at three intermediate mechanical levels.  Severud coordinated closely with One Vanderbilt’s MEP consultant, Jaros, Baum & Bolles, to configure the floor-deep trusses with the least interference with mechanical systems.  At the top of the building, a tuned-mass damper keeps accelerations within a comfortable range for building occupants.  The entire lateral system was designed based on parameters established by RWDI, the project’s wind tunnel and micro-climate specialist.

One Vanderbilt rests on bedrock with a bearing capacity of 60 tons per sq. ft.  The core is supported by a concrete mat that is more than nine ft. thick.  Its volume of 4,268 cu. yd. was placed continuously over a 24-hour period, a feat considered to be the largest such operation in the City’s history.  Perimeter columns sit on isolated spread footings, the largest of which are 14 ft. square and nine ft. thick.  The perimeter walls stand as high as 53 feet from their base to street level and span four cellar levels.  All concrete foundation elements are constructed with 10,000 psi concrete.  Severud’s engineers developed design criteria based on the subsurface investigation and recommendations by geotechnical consultant Langan and coordinated with their counterparts at the MTA to eliminate the influence of the building on adjacent train and subway structures.

Engineers also coordinated with the MTA on the structural design of the significant transportation facilities that are located within and around the building.  A 4,000 sq. ft. transit hall adds another entry point to Grand Central Terminal and facilitates the flow of passengers to Metro-North and, after the completion of the East Side Access, the Long Island Railroad.  Two new subway entrances and improved circulation corridors will allow easy connections to the NYCT 4-5-6, 7, and 42nd Street Shuttle lines.  A 14,000 sq. ft. car-free plaza replaces the section of Vanderbilt Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets and provides relief from the traffic congestion that often occurred at these busy intersections.

Severud Associates has been at the forefront of high-rise building design for most of its 92-year history.  In addition to One Bryant Park, the firm performed structural engineering for the iconic Seagram Building and the Thomson Reuters Building–3 Times Square, both in New York City; 101 Hudson Street in Jersey City, New Jersey; and the IDS Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Current work in Manhattan includes the redevelopment of One and Two Penn Plaza and the new corporate headquarters of JPMorgan Chase Bank at 270 Park Avenue.

Photos by Max Touhey.

Severud Associates Promotions

The experienced and expert engineering staff at Severud Associates is our most important asset. Therefore, we are proud to announce the following promotions: David J. Bretl, Robert A. Calderon, Meghan T. Krupka, Morgan M. Miller, Olivia B. Parker, John W. Puleo, and Kyle M. Roshberg have advanced to the level of Associate; Andrew J. Aumiller, John Lu, and Kyle M. MacDonald have progressed to the position of Senior Engineer. All have shown a deep commitment to their profession and the firm.


Severud Associates Promotions

The experienced and expert engineering staff at Severud Associates is our most important asset. Therefore, we are proud to announce that J. Benjamin Alper has been named Associate Principal and Stephen Reichwein has been elevated to Senior Associate. Both have demonstrated a deep commitment to their profession and the firm.


FAA Air Traffic Control Towers

At the beginning of his presidency, John F. Kennedy had many lofty goals:  End the cold war and achieve world peace; bolster the civil rights of minorities and improve the economic plight of the poor; and, of course, explore outer space and put an astronaut on the moon.  Less well known but equally ambitious was his desire to raise the quality of the architectural design of federal buildings.  Kennedy’s definition of this category was broad and not limited to courthouses and museums.  He included any structure built by the government to serve the public, even buildings used by the FAA at airports.  As a result of the president’s commitment to this goal, I.M. Pei was chosen in April of 1962 to develop a new prototype for air traffic control towers.  Three months later—57 years ago this summer—Pei chose Severud Associates to perform the necessary structural engineering.

Pei was selected by the FAA Design Advisory Committee, a panel of several notable industry professionals.  Their pick was not particularly surprising—Pei had already received acclaim for his work with developer William Zeckendorf on such projects as the The Helix, a cylindrical apartment building planned for New York City (that was never built), Mile High Center, an office building in Denver, and the Society Hill housing development in Philadelphia.  The control tower project would be one of the first that Pei’s new company, I.M. Pei & Associates, would undertake independently.  Pei’s choice of structural engineer was no more surprising as Severud had designed these and several other projects for Zeckendorf’s firm Webb & Knapp, starting back in 1948.


Severud Associates Promotions

The experienced and expert engineering staff at Severud Associates is our most important asset, and we are proud to announce the following promotions.  J. Benjamin Alper, Matthew Peitz, and Daniel Surrett have been elevated to the level of Senior Associate; Jesse Cooper, Jack Gainey, and Andrew Moss have advanced to Associate; and David Bretl, Robert Calderon, Peter Fetzer, Morgan Miller, Olivia Parker, John Puleo, and Kyle Roshberg, have progressed to Senior Engineer.


Looking Back to See the Future

Severud Associates has been providing structural engineering services for projects in New York City, throughout the country, and around the world since 1928.  During this time, the names and faces of the firm’s principals have changed, but its hallmarks of excellence and innovation have always remained the same.  Before starting his own firm, Fred N. Severud partnered with James Ruderman in an engineering venture that gained a reputation for devising structural solutions for challenging projects.  Although their partnership did not last long, Severud began a new firm—89 years ago this month—and accepted his first project, providing structural engineering services for a parochial school in Flushing, Queens.  Fred N. Severud went on to have a long and storied career.  His legacy continues to inform structural engineering today.

Shortly after Severud opened his office, Eivind G. Elstad and Max Krueger joined him, and the firm became Severud-Elstad-Krueger Associates.  Severud and his partners engineered innovative designs for complex and cutting-edge structures, often working with renowned architects such as Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, and Charles Luckman.  Together these masters of engineering and architecture produced a number of iconic American structures such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as well as the Seagram Building and Madison Square Garden, both in New York City.


Roswell Park Cancer Institute–Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center

According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated population of cancer survivors in the United States will increase from more than 15.5 million in 2016 to 20.3 million by 2026.  Improvements in detection and care contributed to this dramatic increase, a result of many decades of research and experience.  Severud Associates has a long history of providing structural engineering services for the hospitals and medical facilities where this vital research and care occurs, going back to the design of a cancer lab addition for the Vanderbilt Clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1949.  More recently, Severud was retained to engineer the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

As the comprehensive cancer center’s first clinical expansion since 1998, the 11-story, 142,000-square-foot building houses six care centers where dedicated medical professionals and others treat the growing number of cancer patients.  Four of these—breast oncology, breast imaging, and gynecology, which form the Women’s Health Center, and chemotherapy & infusion—were relocated from the main hospital to free up space for expansion of services that remain there.  The other two centers are new:  survivorship & supportive care and adolescent & young adult, which are focused on the ongoing needs of cancer survivors who are no longer in active treatment.


Liberty Science Center

A 70-foot high tornado that simulated the power of gale-force winds; a 100-foot-long, pitch-black tunnel that tested sensory skills; and a “zoo” that showcased tarantulas, African scorpions, and other exotic insects were just a few of the many innovative exhibits—along with movies projected on an 88-foot-diameter hemispherical screen—that intrigued and educated visitors when the doors to the Liberty Science Center opened to the public in January 1993. In May 1988—29 years ago next month—Severud Associates was retained to design the structure for this dramatic 170,000 sq. ft. science center in Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

The vertical lines of the Observation Tower and the angular shapes of the main building juxtaposed with the curves of the massive IMAX Dome Theater make Liberty Science Center’s visual aesthetic more striking and its structural design more complex. Severud Associates met the engineering challenges posed by the architectural design by using a carefully chosen variety of structural systems, the most appropriate and economical materials, and analysis and design software considered advanced at that time. The resulting structure provides a mostly unseen showcase of engineering technology worthy of its own exhibit.


United States Tax Court

Most people would agree that the U.S. Tax Court in Washington D.C. is a place they would rather avoid, unless of course they are just going to admire the inventive design of this beautiful Modernist-style building.  In 1965, acclaimed architect Victor Lundy was asked by the General Services Administration (GSA) to design the U.S. Tax Court building using a new set of design principles for federal architecture. That same year—51 years ago this month—Severud Associates was retained to provide structural engineering services to execute Lundy’s vision for a truly contemporary government building.

Resembling an elongated stack of blocks, the granite and glass building features office wings at its left, right, and rear sides from which a windowless two-story cantilever projects towards the front.  The cantilever, which houses the courtrooms, hovers dramatically over a grand staircase leading to the main entrance.  An expansive two-story podium rests below all of the building’s blocks and ties them together.


35XV Condominium

A Jesuit high school and a luxury residential building might at first seem like odd bedfellows, until you see the ingenious mixed-use development known as 35XV at 35 West 15th Street in New York City.  A clever deal enabled Alchemy Properties to acquire air rights from Xavier High by agreeing to place the proposed 18-story residential building on top of a new annex for the school. In April 2010—seven years ago this spring—Severud Associates was retained to provide structural engineering services for this unique project, which involved an array of design challenges and, ultimately, numerous inventive solutions.

Featuring sloped columns, cantilevers, and a glass façade, the tower—complete with 55 luxury condos, a fitness center, lounge, and dining room—sits on top of the school’s six-story, granite-clad annex and adds eye-catching architecture to a tree-lined block in Chelsea.  35XV’s daring architectural design required equally bold engineering, so the team at Severud Associates applied their years of experience and ingenuity to developing structural systems that maintained the architect’s aesthetic vision and also allowed the building to utilize all of its available airspace.