Ceramic 'Sunscreen': How The New York Times Tower Leads Building Performance


In previous decades building facades featured large, opaque wall areas and small windows. Today, architects are designing with large windows and translucent curtainwalls, allowing more natural light to enter the interior space. But of course, buildings need 'sunscreen' to allow these modern designs to last both externally and internally as more glass is used. 

Designers consider the connection of the inside and outside of a space and the use of daylighting as a way to both connect to the outside world and also for its effect on people as well as building performance. These changes have increased the needs for solar management and sun shading.

There are many materials and systems that are being used to better control and manage solar radiation. Horizontal and vertical sunscreen elements, and sometimes a combination of both, customise each elevation for optimal occupant comfort and building performance. These elements help to shape the aesthetic and identity of the building.

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Below we investigate how The New York Times building is leading the way.

 Fast Facts: The New York Times building

  • Architect: Renzo Piano Bldg. Workshop & Fox & Fowle Architects
  • Size: 1.6 million square feet
  • High speed advanced dispatch elevators - 1,600 feet per minute
  • Ceiling heights: 13' 9'' fl/fl
  • Finish: Glazed

Shildan's Sunscreen Facade System (Alphatube)


Windows and curtain walls


Glazed ceramic tubes extruded vertically in 20 foot lengths, attached with metal rods, gaskets and closure brackets

The Building
The New York Times building is the first high rise curtain wall with ceramic sunscreen to be built in the United States. The New York Times in partnership with Lawrence Berkely National Labs performed extensive research on the system and how to maximise energy savings through daylight harvesting.

Ultra clear low iron glass is draped in ceramic tubes to create a curtain wall reflecting light and colour changes through the day. Floor to ceiling glass provides views into the building and into the Pritzker-prize winning designer Renzo Piano's glass-walled moss and birch garden within its 70 foot enclosure.

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At its peak,the building's curtain wall extends beyond the roof to finish the building in a lacelike crown of white; here, the street gracefully meets the sky.
Shildan's Alphatube

The story of Alphatube is best described as the materials behind the 'grid' exterior of the New York Times building in New York City, cleverly designed to reflect both the appearance of newspapers and of its urban environment.

The New York Times Headquarters Building at 40th Street and 8th Avenue in midtown Manhattan incorporates 1 million linear feet of Alphatube in front of a clear glass curtain wall.  The Alphatube is ceramic sunscreen which is used in front of windows and curtain wall.  The attachment system is very similar to terracotta baguettes, with metal rods running through the tubes and gaskets and closure brackets on each end.

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Extruded vertically in twenty (20) foot lengths, it is available in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.

The grid of ceramic rods on the New York Times building exterior cuts down the heating load from the sun by 30% and the total energy bill by 13%.

They wanted a transparent building, but also wanted innovative energy-saving features. The screen, made of 1-5/8 inch diameter ceramic rods, is open at the vision level, and tightens up near the floor and ceiling. The rods reflect light in different directions, bouncing a lot of it up towards the white ceilings and further into the interior of the space. They call it "dynamic daylighting." Combined with automated blinds, they keep the glare down and maximize the daylighting of the space. The light fixtures are all individually controlled to adjust to dim when the natural daylight is high.

Shildan is also behind The University of Queensland's advanced engineering building located at St Lucia.

Colours & Finishes

The different thickness of the glazing, as well as the colour, will change the reflectivity of the tubes. Glossy or matte finishes are available.

Content: Architecture Daily,, Images from Shildan. 

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