NYU Tandon alum Jorge Garcia makes a “concrete” contribution to the city’s book-lovers
When the 22,000-square-foot Hunters Point Community Library opened in 2019, it caused a major buzz. The New York Times called it “among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century” and a “crown jewel” among New York City’s public libraries.
The reporter wrote that the structure’s enormous windows “carve whimsical jigsaw puzzle pieces out of a cool, silvered-concrete facade. That facade is a load-bearing structure, allowing the library’s liberated interior to spiral some 60 feet upward and outward.”
That description gives little indication of the complexities of erecting such a facade, but alum Jorge Garcia (Civil Engineering, ‘13) has a firsthand perspective on the matter. He served in a dual role as the project’s General Superintendent and Senior Project Manager, meaning that he was in charge of all onsite operations involving subcontractor coordination, as well as the concrete structure, which was self-performed by T.B. Penick, the company where he was then working. (In the construction industry, the term self-performing refers to the practice of using in-house talent rather than sub-contractors.)
Garcia, who considers the library one of the most challenging projects of his career, credits the skills he learned at NYU Tandon as being pivotal to his success. “My then-employer challenged me to get an engineering degree,” he recalls. “I made the good choice to study at NYU Tandon, where I got a truly hands-on education. There I had the chance to work on the Concrete Canoe team, which came in handy when it was time to figure out the concrete mixes for the library; I also captained the Steel Bridge team, which placed very well that year; and I had professors whom I still consider mentors.”
Garcia, who went on to later earn a master’s degree in construction management, is so certain of Tandon’s program that he regularly turns to its students when he needs interns or entry-level engineers. “Tandon’s civil-engineering faculty was very supportive of me, and I’d like to now be supportive of other aspiring construction professionals,” he says.
The father of young children, he is eager to take them one day to Hunters Point for a visit. “I’d like to describe my small impact on the city’s built environment,” he says, “and besides, the view of the skyline from those windows is one of the best imaginable.”
In his own words: A technical look at the process
The design of the building was complicated, as this was not a typical superstructure. The facade at the Hunters Point Library is a 12-inch-thick architectural concrete wall, which also acts as a shear wall. Because everything needed to be incorporated into the pour, the sizing of openings, rebar dimensions, and design mixes needed to be taken into consideration for construction elements.
Because the exterior of the building carried an architectural finish, the design mixes were catered in order to minimize any "bugholes" in the finished product, and various mockup walls were created in order to fine-tune mixes. Aside from the architectural finish I required a mix that would provide a high yield early in the cure so that I would be able to strip formwork sooner. Once we were able to achieve a desired finish, all formwork was re-checked for the wet weight of concrete and to determine the allowable rate of pour per concrete jump sequence. This was not only important to prevent any blow-outs in the pour, but also to make sure there was no lift discoloration in the architectural finish resulting from cold joints in the pour.
All pour sequences were coordinated in 12 sections vertically, and all openings in concrete were identified for each pour sequence as well as any radi for windows that needed to be pre-formed within the form work. In later iterations, and in the final product, the pour joints were coordinated to coincide with the repetitive pattern of the exterior form liner in order to not break the pattern
The exterior finish and texture of the building was achieved by adding sheets of OSB Plywood to the inside face of the exterior forms; this allowed for the stamped appearance of the architectural concrete. (I remember having tours of the building with STEM Students in Association of Civil Engineers programs, and I referred to the building as a really big cake, since the material conforms to the forms like in a mold.) Regarding the yield of the concrete, we were breaking test samples at design strength within 36 hours of placement.
As the building had virtually no columns, some steel members were considered "critical" and are actually fully connected from the East and West interior walls in beam pockets. Because they could not be installed from the exterior due to the architectural finish, the beam pockets needed to be coordinated in order to provide ample height to land the steel in place from within. Pockets were oversized vertically so that during the erection process, steel would be seated on the East Interior Elevation and lowered into its pocket on the West Elevation. The coordination of all structural elements also included any steel penetrations required to install ductwork and mechanical systems, which were to follow.
The superstructure of Hunters Point Library was completed approximately three months ahead of the projected schedule with a budgetary savings of approximately 25 percent from the forecast, so to me the project was a huge success.
The views are spectacular thanks to the oversized window panels, which were installed into steel framing.The design intended for required thinner sightlines, so all framing needed to be created out of half-inch plates and structural tubing rather than a pre-engineered aluminum extrusion.
The window wall system followed the opening schedule in the contract drawings, the glazing subcontractor and I designed the system to meet the project requirements in terms of glass sizing and required sightlines. The design process started before our first superstructure pour and lasted approximately five months until fully developed; this happened concurrently with coordination of building elements.
The system was entirely custom and was fabricated in a steel shop in New Jersey, which awaited glass to be delivered from Europe because of the size limitations of glazing ovens in the United States at the time. (A typical glass size is 13'x4' with some pieces as large as 13'x15'.} The entire panel was broken down into nine sections that were shipped and craned in place and subsequently bolted together and welded to the embeds. Each embed and anchor either served as a wind load anchor or dead load anchor. Sections of the window wall also act as part of the life safety system; there are nearly 30 pieces of operable glass that are activated during the purge sequence of the building and allow for make up air during smoke evacuation of the building, and it’s all tied to the fire alarm system and motorized with chain driven actuators.