A hulking glass behemoth plopped along the banks of the Hudson River, New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has always been a hot mess of a building that can cause the most even-keeled of conventioneers to teeter on the brink of insanity. (I’m getting phantom migraines and foot pains just thinking about it.)

While the Javits Center doesn’t have the best rep, you could really say this about most massive convention centers: They’re painful by design. While not the largest (or the most painful) convention center in the United States by square-footage, the I.M. Pei-designed Javits Center is the busiest, home to the New York International Auto Show, New York Comic Con, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair and countless other high-traffic events.

For years, the Javits Center, dreary, dismal and bordering on dilapidated, has also had the dubious distinction of being one of New York City’s deadliest buildings for birds, which is saying something in a dense urban area chock-full of glass high-rises. In 2009, the five-block spanning complex was identified, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Bellevue Hospital, as being one the top three bird-killing buildings by the New York City Audubon Society.

“The smallest piece of glass and the biggest piece of glass is an equal killer,” ornithologist Daniel Klem Jr. explained to the New York Times. “The birds behave like it’s invisible to them.” The Javits Center, or the front facade of it anyway, is all glass.

But in a city where an estimated 90,000 winged residents — many just passing through along the Atlantic Flyway — perish each year after colliding with buildings, the Javits Center, once written off as an 1,800,000-square-foot avian deathtrap, is now helping to dramatically decrease those numbers as one of the city’s most bird-friendly buildings.

Despite calls for the whole hideous shebang to be bulldozed, the Javits Center recently underwent a massive, multibillion dollar expansion and retrofitting project that’s rendered the building a little less disheartening for humans and a whole lot less deadly for birds. In fact, bird fatalities at and around the building have been trimmed by 90 percent. As part of the LEED Silver-aiming overhaul, thousands of the Javits Center’s highly reflective “Darth Vadar” glass panels along the façade and roofline were replaced with less reflective, pixilated glass panes outfitted with a bird-deterring ceramic dot, or frit, pattern. While the new glass has led to a staggering drop in bird strikes, it’s also, along with other measures, helped to improve the building’s overall energy efficiency.

Earlier this year, the editorial board of the New York Times gave the revamped Javits Center its enthusiastic endorsement:

Three years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled doom for the Javits Center with a plan to replace it with something much bigger in Queens, even as a previously begun renovation went forward. The result is a center that, whatever its limitations, is notably rich in eco-friendly innovations that deserve emulation as the city builds and rebuilds itself into the future.
While the fact that the Javits Center no longer doubles as a bird graveyard is a huge feat, perhaps even more impressive is that the building is now a bona fide haven — yes, haven — for urban wildlife. And for this, the Javits Center’s new green roof is to credit.

The sedum-topped roof of NYC's Javits Center

The Javits Center is blanketed with 14 varieties of sedum grown in Upstate New York prior to installation on the convention center's roof. (Photo: Xero Flor)

Spanning nearly 7 acres, the lush, sedum-topped roof is by far the largest in New York City and the second largest green roof on a single, free-standing building in the United States according to the roof’s installer, Durham, North Carolina-based Xero Flor. (FXFOWLE Architects and Epstein were responsible for the convention center’s award-winning makeover, roof included.)

Roughly the size of five football fields, the new vegetation-carpeted roof provides the structure with additional insulation to further drive down energy costs in the winter and summer. It’s also capable of soaking up 6.8 million gallons of rainwater annually to help prevent localized surface flooding along Manhattan's far West Side.

And then there are the birds.

As recently reported by NBC New York, the Javits Center’s new roof is home to nearly a dozen different species of winged residents. During a study conducted over the spring and summer of 2014 by New York City Audubon Society and researchers from Fordham University, a total of 524 birds were spotted hangin’ on the roof including Canadian geese, American kestrels, rock pigeons, mourning doves, fish crows, northern mocking birds, great black-backed gulls, house swallows and European swallows. Barn swallows, herring gulls and European starlings were spotted the most.

In addition to birds, bats have also swooped in to feast upon the variety of insects that call the convention center roof home.

“Our research at Fordham University has confirmed that urban green roofs can successfully support wildlife, but we were surprised and delighted how quickly birds began utilizing the Javits Center green roof," Fordham University professor J. Alan Clark remarks in a statement released by the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation. "What is especially exciting about the Javits Center green roof is its sheer size."

The full Javits bird-spotting study will be published in the coming weeks — just in time for the Green Expo (and a big pharmaceutical processing hoedown)!

Via [NY Daily News] via [Inhabitat], [NBC New York]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.