With Pier 17, Channel Glass Brings a Contemporary Edge to the South Street Seaport

The building's icy, transparent envelope deploys an unconventional type of glass in a crenellated profile that, according to SHoP's Gregg Pasquarelli, suggests “almost a contemporary version of pier architecture.”
shop architects pier 17 glass facade

Because channel glass is self-standing, it doesn’t require a metal frame, making it easy to serialize into seamless vertical or horizontal compositions. At Pier 17, 37,000 square feet of the material is arranged in vertical clusters, which alternate with bands of operable windows. Courtesy Bendheim


A place like South Street Seaport, the historic neighborhood–turned–tourist condenser in Lower Manhattan, doesn’t really call out for good architecture. And yet that’s what Pier 17 is, providing an unexpected moment of clarity amid muddled urban development and commercial pastiche.

Opened earlier this year, the flat-topped, four-story entertainment venue is resolutely boxlike—“a bigger box floating on a smaller box,” says Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, which designed the building. Well proportioned, Pier 17 sensitively fronts Fulton and Beekman Streets, the area’s two main thoroughfares. While its lower register is somewhat blank, even utilitarian, the upper layer, defined by its row of glass lightboxes, is more rhythmic and possesses depth. The latter’s icy, transparent envelope deploys an unconventional type of glass in a crenellated profile that, according to Pasquarelli, suggests “almost a contemporary version of pier architecture.”

shop architects pier 17 glass facade

SHoP Architects integrated light fixtures within the channels themselves and, working with lighting consultants L’Observatoire International, devised a night-lighting scheme that embraces the full color spectrum. Courtesy Taylor Crothers Photography


Landing on the right material was a process, says Mike Tryon, general manager of architectural glass company Bendheim, which has consulted with leading architects since 1927. Because SHoP had specified 20-foot-tall glass lightboxes, Bendheim had to find a way to minimize costs while ensuring the glass could withstand the East River’s winds. To complicate matters further, the firm specified glass without metal clips, a typical method of reinforcement for glass of this size. “Being architects, they wanted a more sophisticated detail,” Tryon recalls, pointing to the resulting clean, continuous lines that span the height of Pier 17’s facade.

Bendheim suggested translucent channel glass, a type of structural glazing that “has the face of glass but with the addition of legs,” as Tryon puts it. He consulted with German glass manufacturer (and Bendheim supplier) Lamberts to further tailor the system for Pier 17, eventually widening the flange of each glass member for added support. “With this custom profile we pressed right up to the limit of production,” he says. “It was a tricky thing.”

shop architects pier 17 glass facade

“Our goal,” says SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli, “was that at night the floating glass box, glowing softly, would be seen as a new kind of beacon or lighthouse on the waterfront.” Courtesy Taylor Crothers Photography

Project: Pier 17
Location: New York
Product: Bendheim 504 Rough Cast Channel Glass

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Categories: Architecture, Building Products