Event Venues

Javits’ ‘Miracle on 34th Street’

A kinder, gentler Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City starts at the top — with an environmentally sustainable green roof that has become a refuge for birds.

Back in the 1980s, when the renowned architect I.M. Pei designed the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side, he clad the structure in tinted, mirrored glass so that the building’s façade would reflect the city’s skyline.

The neighborhood is changing — and we are changing along with it.

But the dark glass created unintended consequences, and not just by inspiring the ominous nickname “Darth Vader.” Birds in flight mistook their own reflections in the glass for other birds and swerved to miss them, smashing into the side of the building. The 2.1 million-square-foot Javits Center became one of New York City’s leading bird killers, said Tony Sclafani, senior vice president and chief communications officer for the center, claiming thousands of birds a year. 

The green roof has become a nesting colony for Herring Gulls.

 That’s all changed, following a renovation that replaced the dark glass with more transparent, bird-friendly glass fabricated with a pattern of translucent dots. Since it was installed, bird deaths have plummeted by 90 percent and the renovation also added a 6.75-acre green roof, planted with sedum, which has become a habitat where not just birds, but bats and insects, thrive. The roof, the second-largest in the United States, opened last spring, and over a 26-week period last year, the New York City Audubon observed more 1,100 bird sightings and 17 species. Sclafani recently took Convene — myself and editors Corin Hirsch and Michelle Russell — up to the roof for a tour, where we discovered speckled eggs in several nests amid views of Midtown skyscrapers and the Hudson River.

The center’s soaring lobby is nicknamed the Crystal Palace.

Darth Vader has lightened up for human visitors, too. The new façade floods the center’s main lobby with light and has opened up views of the river, while the addition of clusters of tables and chairs, along with a new food court and coffee shop, has given attendees more places to roost. The renovation added more Wi-Fi to the building, too.

In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to expand the center, adding another 1.2 million square feet to the center, an expansion which would increase the amount of meeting rooms fivefold. The expansion also includes plans for rooftop event space — the green roof currently is open for tours by appointment only. 

Jacob K Javits Convention Center, Green RoofOnce stranded, island-like, in an industrial corridor, the 30-year-old Javits Center is at the center of a booming mixed-use redevelopment project, Hudson Yards. The north end of the popular High Line, a 1.5 mile-long urban park built on what was once an elevated train line, now begins across the street from Javits. And the center is also newly accessible by public transportation — an extension to the city’s 7 subway line opened last September.

Retail shops and businesses are already moving in, and the project is expected to bring residences, more businesses and retail, dozens of restaurants, additional venues, and acres of open space to the area over the next decade.

“The neighborhood is changing, “ Sclafani said, “and we are changing along with it.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.