A Simple Design for A Vital Public Service

A new public safety answering center in the Bronx, PSAC II, combines fortress-like durability with monumental elegance.

(Photo: Courtesy Skidmore, Owings + Merrill)

A facility that handles millions of emergency calls per day in New York City creates a particular challenge from an architect’s perspective: How do you build something secure that doesn’t resemble an above-ground bunker? Tasked with designing the Public Safety Answering Center II (PSAC II) in the Bronx, international firm Skidmore, Owings + Merrill (SOM) solved the conundrum with a simple, practical approach, much like the intended function of the operations conducted therein. PSAC II is contained in a perfect cube that spans over 450,000 square feet. Visible from nearby highways, the monolithic form takes on an air not unlike a Richard Serra or a Robert Morris. A sophisticated landscape design was critical for the success of the project, explains Gary Haney, a partner at SOM who was in charge of the project. “The sculptural berm surrounding the facility creates a protective barrier, while also camouflaging the surface parking and loading dock from the surrounding parkways” he says. “The building appears to emerge from the landscape.” Up close, there is a facade of serrated aluminum, and the openings, protected with mechanical louvers, bring a dynamism to the exterior. Indoors, a vertical green wall, designed in collaboration with New York state’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, contains a plant-based air filtration system. “For such a demanding, 24/7 work environment, we asked, ‘How can we design the interior to relieve some of that stress?’ In addition to purifying the air and reducing overall energy use, the system contributes to a calming, supportive workplace by bringing nature inside the building.

David Basulto is the founder and editor-in-chief of ArchDaily.

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