Normally, the structures that communities use to stockpile veritable mini-mountains of road salt aren't much to look at. More often than not, municipal salt storage sheds take the form of diminutive airplane hangars or monolithic domes — that is, they're spartan, uninspired, unimaginative. And why should they demonstrate a little razzle-dazzle when these stark expanses of asphalt flooring — the bulk bins of the architecture world — are strictly utilitarian in nature and only accessed, usually begrudgingly, on a seasonal basis?
Apparently Dattner Architects didn't get the memo as the firm has designed not only the most eye-catching salt storage facility out there but of one of the most heralded works of civic architecture to hit New York City in recent memory.
Yep, one of the Big Apple's best new buildings is a shed used to store up to 5,000 tons of road salt.
A playful, avant-garde work of programmatic architecture, the New York City Department of Sanitation's newly opened Sprint Street Salt Shed resembles a monstrous salt crystal soaring 70-feet above the Hudson River near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel on the far northern fringes of Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood.
As the New York Times explains, the crystalline concrete structure, along with a neighboring — and also incredibly striking — green-roofed sanitation garage, was initially a source of NIMBYist outrage as area residents (including a gaggle of celebrities) rallied together to halt the controversial project. But as Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman explains:
Luxury apartment developers in the neighborhood predicted Armageddon. Instead, apartment prices went through the roof. The garage and shed have ended up being not just two of the best examples of new public architecture in the city but a boon to the neighborhood, whether the wealthy neighbors have come around to it or not. I can't think of a better public sculpture to land in New York than the shed.
And just weeks after its completion, the Spring Street Salt Shed — a building that proudly wears its function on its sleeve — is already being put to the test as a ferocious snowstorm/marketing ploy bears down on the Big Apple.
Yesterday, the cavernous interior of the structure was showcased as the backdrop for a press conference held by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. During the conference, de Blasio, joined by Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and other city leaders, issued a hazardous travel advisory for the five boroughs, currently under a blizzard warning, and advised residents to "be ready for the big storm. Make precautions now."
With a total of 303,000 tons of rock salt at the ready along with 579 salt trucks, 1,650 snow plows and a small army of shovel-wielding civilians on-hire by the city, the city, it would appear, is ready.
While the $21 million Spring Street Salt Shed is no doubt a photogenic showstopper — Kimmelman likens it to the Sydney Opera House compared to the 40 other salt sheds operated by the city — that will be transformed into a hub of activity over the next few days, it's also worth praising the aforementioned sanitation garage located just across Spring Street.
Also designed by Dattner Architects — the firm specializes in works of civic architecture such as parks, schools, subway stations and community centers — in collaboration with WXY Architecture + Urbanism, the multi-story Manhattan Districts 1/2/5 Garage is impressive in size: at 425,000-square-feet, it can accommodate 150 sanitation vehicles along with wash/fuel/repair facilities and office, locker and down-time space for upwards of 200 sanitation employees. Like the Spring Street Salt Street defies convention, it looks nothing like what you'd expect a city sanitation garage to look like.
Designed to achieve LEED Gold Certification and heated and cooled through a municipal steam service system, the garage building is topped with a 1.5-acre green roof. Boasting 25 different species of drought-resistant plants spread out across 13,250 tray, it's the largest green roof for a public agency building in all of New York City. In addition to helping to protect and insulate the building while adding a bit of all-important aesthetic oomph, greywater collected through the roof's rainwater catchment system is recycled and used to wash sanitation vehicles.
From the street, the most noticeable element of the 1/2/5 Garage is its innovative and energy-saving double-skin façade. Dually comprised of a glass curtain wall and 2,600 custom perforated metal fins, the façade was conceived, in the words of the architects, "to reduce solar heat gain and glare, create a uniform wrapper to obscure views into the facility while allowing views out, and also break down the project's mass into smaller, rhythmic elements."
The building’s façade is, in fact, already an award-winner: it received an honorable mention at the Architect's Newspaper's Best of Design 2015 Awards in the Façade category.
The 1/2/5 Garage and the Spring Street Salt Shed have also garnered acclaim from area residents, many of them so quick to oppose the construction of a massive sanitation facility in their backyard back when the project was first announced. I can't entirely blame them. After all, who would want the Department of Sanitation as a neighbor?
Wrote the Tribeca Citizen back in August, well before construction on the buildings had wrapped up:
Even though the building's West Street side is still covered up, it's not too soon to call this one a winner. Who would've guessed that the best new building in this area in years would be used to store road salt — and that the runner-up would be the the Manhattan Districts 1/2/5 Sanitation Garage across the street? Both are by Dattner Architects, which deserves some sort of civic award for pulling this off.
And as Kimmelman writes for the Times: "Opponents of the sanitation project in Hudson Square may not have gotten exactly what they wanted. But they were fortunate. They got something better."
Aside from not being hideous in the very least, there's a nice environmental perk that comes along with this staggering monument to sodium chloride: decreased vehicle emissions. Previously, salt spreaders assigned to the area would have to travel longer distances to reload. An additional major salt depot reduces much of the need for excessive back-and-forth-ing across Manhattan.
And when the approaching blizzard hits, you best believe that the area immediately around New York City's landmark sanitation buildings will have the clearest streets and sidewalks in town.