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Contextualism As a Complex And Controversial Issue

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The alarming rate of globalization has enhanced the existing debate on contextualism making it a complex and controversial issue. The need to ensure sustainable architectural practices has compelled architects to ensure that all features surrounding a site are integrated into the design of a building. The concept of contextualism entails giving meaning to major elements of a structure with regard to social and physical parameters confined within its environment. Contextualism falls into three broad categories namely critical regionalism, regional architecture, and vernacular architecture. These types of contextualism have different ways of adapting, analyzing, and integrating natural and social parameters such as religion into the perspective of the building. Accordingly, the essay analyzes shape, placement, and height of the Bank of America Tower with an objective of ascertaining that the building is contextual within its surrounding neighborhood.

Description of the Bank of America Tower

According to Cook Fox Studio, the Bank of America Tower is an example of a cutting-edge green building technology that combines economic, social, and ecological principle with an objective of creating a sustainable structure. The building is 365.8 meters tall to the tip, a height, which includes, 55 floors above ground and three floors below ground (“The Skyscraper Center”). The building addresses its local environment factors, dense conditions of the city, and ensures that there is a close correlation between its form and function (“Cook Fox Studio”). Some of the aspects of green building exploited by the tower include building form, water, and energy conservation, material and resources, and environmental quality. The structure takes a crystalline form that was inspired by the legacy of the 1853 Crystal Palace and thus, alluding to an effective natural analog, both urban and organic in nature (“The Skyscraper Center”).

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The tower was designed by Cook + Fox Architects who are known for their dedicated vision towards integrated and environmentally responsive design. The organization has successfully completed other projects such as St John’s Centre, 641 Avenue of the Americas, City Point, and Friends Centre at Angkor Hospital for Children among others (“Contextualism”). Cookfox was founded by Bob fox and Rick Cook with an objective of bringing together a team of passionate and talented experts capable of designing high standards sustainable buildings.

Description of the Neighborhood Surrounding the Bank of America Tower

The building is strategically located near Times Square in the midtown of Manhattan, New York. The tower stands on the Avenue of the Americas, opposite Bryant Park and between 42nd and 43rd streets. The park is integrated into the architectural design of the structure through the use of Urban Garden Room and Green roofs, which are combined with the natural lobby materials to accentuate the natural factors present in the city life (“Archdaily”). How effective the structure is in bridging different contexts such as Bryant Park and Times Square is the questions that emerge in regard to the surrounding of the tower. Field Report and Analysis

There are various elements of visual elements that can be analyzed to inform if a structure is contextual within its neighborhood. The subsequent section will consider form/shape, placement, and scale/height in addition to techniques and materials used to construct the building.

Comparison on the Basis of Form/Shape

The shape of The Bank of America Tower differs with that of the surrounding buildings in all major views namely front, side, and elevation. The exterior walls of the building are angled contrary to other buildings in its vicinity, which are rectangular in shape with walls extruding at right angles. The design adopted angled walls; both in section and in plan with an objective of optimizing the amount of the natural light available to end users (“Archdaily”). The geometry of the building was also informed by the need to capture the spectacular tower views from its interior, despite the high number of tall buildings surrounding it especially along the Manhattan’s grid (“Contextualism”).

The building adopts a sculptural geometry that makes it rhyme with the surrounding structures and also achieve a higher degree of eco-efficiency. The structure is basically partitioned into two blocks of different height that give it an incredible aesthetic appeal and a well composed exterior design. Different facades composed of curtain walls made of glass, aluminum, and steel are used to ensure that the shape of the structure is appealing in comparison to the surrounding buildings. The curtain wall by design is supposed to protect the structure from excessive solar radiation by the use of glass with low-emissivity (“Cook Fox Studio”).

Comparison on the Basis of Height

The Bank of America Tower is a 365.80 meters tall building occupying an area of a hundred and fifteen thousand square meters. The building has 55 stories, which primarily serve as offices. All the buildings surrounding the tower are relatively shorter, with most of them being in the range of 30-45 stories (“The Skyscraper Center”). For this reason, the building is facing a lot of criticism as a consequence of its huge shadow that limits the amount of fresh air and natural light available in the indoor environment of the surrounding building. However, from visual observation, the building next to tower in the Northern direction of 1101 6th Avenue has almost the same height with the skyscraper. According to Cook Fox Studio, the block on the southern façade has a height of 959.6 feet while that on the north façade is situated at a height of 877.83 feet.

The main objective behind the high height of the building is to attain a high indoor environment characterized by ceiling heights of 2.9 meters, which will guarantee a good supply of daylight and filtered air. The main structural element is made up of reinforced concrete to ensure that it is stable against sway effects and also overturning despite its huge architectural height. Baker, Nick, and Koen Steemers ascertain that different types of concrete were mixed with an objective of reducing the total dead load of the structure (589). In addition, the idea of mixing concrete was in accordance with the need to minimize environmental contamination. The main structural elements (beams, columns, retaining walls, and slabs) of the building surrounding the tower are also made of reinforced concrete (“The Skyscraper Center”). The structures have also adopted curtain walls made up of glass, aluminum, and steel.

In regard to scale element of visual analysis, the building occupies a floor area of 195.096 square meters. The desire to choose such a floor- height relationship was informed by the functional use of the building. The design was to ensure that the created space was huge enough to accommodate office users of the structure that was demolished to pave way for the construction of the skyscraper. Other structures within the surrounding of the building have floor areas in the range of 105-245 square meters, which are meant to provide the much-needed office space in New York (“Skyscraper Center”).

Comparison on the Basis of Placement

The alignment, orientation, and elevation of the tower are consistent with those of the surrounding buildings. The tower including most of the structure in its surrounding is solar oriented with an objective of moderating the temperatures and ensuring sufficient supply of natural light (“Cookfox Studio”). The positioning of the tower’s windows and its strategic location on the site is also similar to the orientation of the adjacent buildings. The similarity in the placement of the Bank of America Tower and other buildings on the Sixth Avenue and 42 nd street is linked to the desire of the designers to ensure that the structures respond to environmental factors specifically solar radiation. With the increased need for sustainable architectural practices, the current design of buildings aims at optimizing on rainwater harvesting, solar energy tapping, and adequate supply of fresh air and ultimately, the structures ends up having similar orientation on site.

Opinions of Architects and Architectural Critics

The architects of the Bank of America Tower (Cook + Fox Architects) holds that the building is contextual to the surrounding and also sustainable in regard to the environment. The professionals insist that they were fully committed to ensuring that the design was a true reflection of their vision (“Cook Fox Studio”). The use of steel, glass, and aluminum in the construction of the building was informed by the building that was erected in Bryant Park using glass. The professionals also cite that the move to reconstruct and restore the historic Henry Miller Theatre through the preservation of its 1918 façade makes the tower contextual.

Cook + Fox Architects insist that starting from the base to the entire massing of the building including the tip of the spire, is contextual since it responds effectively to the dense urban conditions. According to Skyscraper Center, the design of the base of the building ensures that the users of the structure can easily access the New York subway through a glass structure that links Bryant Park Station and Time Square Station. In this regard, the base of the tower enhances the complex pedestrian circulation in the city. In addition, the design ensures that the skyscraper rhymes with other buildings all the way from the McGraw-Hill structure to the west and Chrysler building to the East in regard to impressiveness.

Despite the stand by Cook + Fox Architects that the building in contextual, there is a myriad of architectural critics that seek to discredit the perception of the professions. First, some argue that the height of the building fails to strategically position the tower in the context of its surrounding. According to Skyscraper Center, and site visual observations, the skyscraper produces a huge shadow that blocks views and also limits the amount of natural light received in the nearby buildings. There are already filed grievances by individuals who claim that their views have been blocked by the tower, compelling them to spend heavily on energy (lighting) even during the day (“Arch daily”).

Opinions on the Bank of America Tower

In my opinion, the Bank of America Tower is contextual to the surrounding. First, in regard to placement of the building, its orientation ensures that there is plenty supply of daylighting and fresh air. The issue of sustainability in regard to energy use is New York is of critical importance and the design on most of the buildings in the city aims at utilizing solar energy as well as natural lighting from the sun (“Arch daily”). For instance, the orientation of the high-rise buildings surrounding the tower aims at creating an indoor environment that is lighted by the sun and supplied with fresh air collected from the roof.

The form of the tower also informs my opinion in regard to how the structure is contextual to its neighborhood. In regard to this element of visual analysis, the tower has incorporated sloping exterior walls in its design, an approach with a myriad of benefits. Cook Fox Studio, ascertains that most of the buildings in the vicinity of the tower have optimized on the potential of inclined walls in ensuring that daylight penetrates as many floors as possible. The use of walls that chamfer the corners ensures that the skyscraper is strategically positioned to admit daylight and fresh air into the indoor environment. The sloping aspect of the tower makes it resemble structures around it.

Height as an element of visual element informs my opinion that the tower is contextual within its surrounding. Most of the buildings surrounding the tower are in the range of 30-45 stories, and thus near the height of the skyscraper (55 stories). The floor area of the skyscraper (195.096 square meters) also approximates to the size of most of the structures within its surrounding (“Skyscraper Center”). In this regard, it can be argued that since the height/scale of the building is consistent with those within its set up, then the structure is contextual within its surrounding.


In conclusion, from the analysis, it is evident that the Bank of America Tower is contextual within its surrounding neighborhood. Context with regard to architecture entails giving meaning to various elements of a building with regard to physical and social factors in its wider surrounding. Contextualism is a building design principles in which a structure is designed in a manner that ensures that it can respond to its specific natural and urban environment. Visual analysis of the Bank of America Tower in regard to placement, scale/height, and form has provided a deeper insight on how the building relates to the surrounding structure. The use of inclined walls has dominated in the construction of structures surrounding the building. Comparing the tower with respect to the aforementioned elements of visual analysis has depicted that the skyscraper is contextual to the surrounding. However, the height of the structure is among the architectural elements facing critics as a consequence of the resulting shadow that limits other buildings from accessing sunlight.


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