SMH+: Contempory Thresholds

Massena LPOE - New York


The new Land Port of Entry in Massena, New York will be a 45 acre campus bounded to the south by State Route 37 and the Raquette River and to the north by the St. Lawrence River. Access to the Port is made via the Seaway International Bridge from Canada and an interchange with Route 37 from New York. The Department of Homeland Security is constructing the port to facilitate the inspection and control of private and commercial vehicles. The campus will include four buildings totaling 60,000 square feet and a system of internal roadways and parking integrated into an indigenous wetland landscape. The design maintains an ecological balance in both site and building approach in order to meet LEED certification while facilitating port operations and ensuring security.

In response to local social-political tensions and nationally heightened security anxieties, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) required a design with the safety performance of a bunker. However, the General Services Administration's (GSA) Design Excellence Program calls for a facility that is welcoming and aesthetically pleasing in order to serve as a gateway into the United States. A building strategy of layering materials was developed in response to the clients' opposing visions. The composition is primarily a double cavity wall of masonry sheathed in a polycarbonate sleeve which shifts in overlap according to the unique security demands of the interior spaces. Head height masonry walls serve as ballistic protection for those working inside the building, while the continuous translucent polycarbonate wrap obscures an understanding of the building's spatial organization and allows natural light to penetrate into the interior offices and work spaces through clerestory windows. The polycarbonate wrap also creates an additional layer of thermal protection against the northeastern winds and creates a vibrant composition of backlit polycarbonate juxtaposed with shadowed protected space to illuminate the dynamic northern facade.

The result is a bunker that has been precisely manipulated to provide ballistic protection and a sense of security for its inhabitants while maintaining an air of welcoming light and openness to visitors passing through the port; proving that buildings can still be beautiful in a climate of heightened states of threat. This design approach and material palette is used consistently throughout the four buildings on the site, creating a sense of homogeneity between buildings with very different shapes, sizes, and functions and providing a secure work environment for all port employees. This coherent approach will also contribute to the cost efficiency and ease of construction, as window, door and polycarbonate curtain wall details are kept consistent among the Main Building, Secondary Inspection, Port Facilities Building, and the NII Facility.

Main Building:

The Main Administration Building and its adjacent inspection plaza canopies create a landmark gateway to the United States that takes advantage of the interplay between illuminated and obscured spaces to create a hospitable atmosphere while maintaining the secure operations of the port. Wing-shaped canopies lit from below illuminate the inspection plazas flanking the Main Building, and the building's backlit double wall facade of CMU enclosed in a translucent polycarbonate sleeve creates a variegated pattern of light and shadow that allows for the concealment of interior port functions and personnel while at the same time providing a welcoming beacon to visitors. Strategically located ballistically glazed windows puncture the dynamic facade to allow for secure supervision of port traffic and activities.

The Main Administration Building is a centrally located one and one half story building that divides the inbound roadway. The building is book-ended by two public lobbies, commercial to the west and non-commercial to the east, which are linked by a spine of private employee circulation, offices, and support spaces. Secure zones are kept to the interior of the building. Employee offices and workspaces occupy the north wall at the first and second floors, taking advantage of the even northern daylight allowed into the building through the polycarbonate clerestory and the protection afforded by the head height masonry wall. The natural finish smooth face CMU at the interior adds warmth and texture as well as a sense of security to these rooms. The rectangular building is efficient in its limited perimeter wall, flexible floor plan and the sharing of similar program elements between commercial and non-commercial operations. Future expansion of the building and inspection canopies can be accommodated within the new site plan, allowing for the port to grow incrementally as the need arises.

Port Facilities Building:

The Port Facilities Building has a unique relationship to the site's infrastructure. Due to the area's high water table, The Fire Reserve Tank for the Massena Campus could not be buried underground. Instead, SMH folded the Fire Reserve Tank into the building envelope as a passive heating solution. By placing the concrete tank on the southern end of the building, it becomes a heat sink, absorbing energy during the day and radiating it back at night. The result is a symbiotic relationship between tank and building that lowers the overall life-cycle energy consumption and base construction cost.

The Port Facilities Building uses the same language of the polycarbonate wrap as the Main Building. By varying the glazing in height and elevation from clerestory to curtain-wall, the polycarbonate negotiates the day-lighting of interior spaces and solar gain constraints of the mechanical systems while also facilitating way-finding around the site. The largest expanse of polycarbonate is on the northeastern region of the building directing people to the public spaces within the building and backlighting the shadowed facade. On the southern facade, a limited amount of polycarbonate clerestory is concealed under the roof overhang to provide much-needed indirect daylight to interior spaces while limiting solar gain.

NII Facility Building:

The NII Facility Building serves as a radiation shield and weathering enclosure for the scanning process of commercial vehicles. It is an unconditioned building used to visually conceal search operations if the scanning VACIS Equipment flags sensitive material concealed in commercial cargo. For the safety of port employees and truck drivers an interior shield wall is constructed to absorb the emitted radiation from the VACIS Equipment. SMH chose to fold the shield wall into the architectural envelope protecting occupied spaces as both a cost savings opportunity and to abstractly express the interior program without compromising the security of the scan and search operation.

The building composition accommodates site infrastructure similar to the Port Facilities Building. A retaining wall is necessary to negotiate the site elevation difference between a raised septic leech field and the commercial traffic lane. The retaining wall is incorporated into the eastern edge of the building and serves as the structural base to the tapered steel columns. Directly above the retaining wall a polycarbonate clerestory wraps around the building, providing natural light to aid in the building's search operations and lower life-cycle costs from intense lighting requirement. Finally, the polycarbonate wrap and large concrete shield wall facade would add a sense of visual continuity between the other port buildings and the NII Facilities Building.