When the 32-story New York Telephone Company building at 375 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan was completed in 1975, The New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger called it the “most disturbing” of the phone company’s switching centers. Although its bright limestone façade reflects a certain officious lightness, the tower’s rigid angles, narrow windows, and authoritarian opacity are visually arid.
For years, Verizon owned the building, treating it as a switching center for its own telecommunications services. In 2007, with the commercial building industry still bustling, Taconic Investment Partners bought the tower for $172 million, intending to add a Cook & Fox-designed glass curtainwall and convert its program to office space. But before work could begin, the tower slipped into foreclosure, and in 2011, Sabey Data Center Properties, the largest privately held developer, owner, and manager of data center properties in the United States, acquired the tower from M&T Bank for $120 million, seeing an opportunity to fill a need and build an important ‘first’ in Manhattan with a high-rise data center.
The conversion of 375 Pearl Street from a telephone switching center to a one million-square-foot data center has done nothing to alter the façade of the building, but now the tower, renamed Intergate.Manhattan, has a pragmatic aesthetic that serves to mirror it’s freshly realized and purely technological function. And complementary of such large-scale adaptive reuse, Intergate.Manhattan also uses intelligent sustainable strategies for its cooling and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, suggesting that Sabey’s conversion not only sets a precedent for sustainable data center management but also data center function in a dense urban context.
Intergate.Manhattan, which had a soft opening in March 2013, offers its tenants both types of leases managed by Sabey: Powered Shell and Wholesale Co-Location. The former offers a shell with an amount of associated power to support client data needs, and the client thus performs all associated design and operations. The latter involves Sabey’s own electrical and mechanical build-outs with associated cooling and power leases in spaces operated by Sabey.
The basic infrastructure allowing for these multifaceted data centers was already in place when Sabey purchased the tower in 2011, so in order to orient the building for its 2013 opening, Sabey first needed to turn the tower into a shell. John Sasser, vice president of operations for Sabey, says, “There was a lot of old, used office furniture in the building, raised flooring, and a lot of equipment past the end of its useful life, so we first restored the building to a shell condition. If you look at many of the floors in the building now, you’ll see a lot of bare concrete. It’s very well-positioned for future leasing and builds.”
One of the greatest advantages of the tower at 375 Pearl Street is its size and robustness with clear heights on the floors ranging from 14 to 23 feet and a floor-loading capability of anywhere between 150 to 400 pounds per square foot. The load capacity allows for the installation of heavy-duty server and cooling equipment, but more significantly, it gives Sabey room to use its various sustainable and energy-efficient strategies for power-loading and machine-cooling systems.
After Sabey reduced Intergate.Manhattan to a shell, it began phase one of construction, which involved major infrastructural updates. “The building electrical system was 40 years old, so we replaced all of the old electrical elements with new larger switchers and transformers that, because they are new, don’t have any end-of-life issues,” Sasser says. “We also moved these elements up to the second floor, so they’re out of any potential flooding scenario and they’re sized for growth.”
Sabey also performed similar infrastructural updates to the water services coming into the building, which—in addition to the upgraded electrical systems—provides the utilities backdrop for the data center’s state-of-the-art cooling systems; elevated, variable-speed energy chillers; efficient UPS modules, which run at 97 percent efficiency; and a waterside economizer. “The primary thing you can do to make a data center more energy efficient is to cool it efficiently,” Sasser says. “We’re using hot aisle containment here, which separates the cool and the hot airflows, allowing us to extend our economizer hours, and the economizer itself lets us cool without any mechanical refrigeration cycle.”
When the outdoor air temperature is cool enough, it allows Sabey to turn its chillers off and transfer the cooling load to a heat exchanger to keep the closed water-loop cool, and thus transfer that air to the server rooms and keep the machines cool. This, coupled with the center’s proximity to its would-be city-based lessors, situates Intergate.Manhattan not only as a power-savvy data center but also involves its program in an active urban context where the market for proximal data center space is ripe. Furthermore, Intergate.Manhattan’s proximity to its users lessens latency issues and centralizes IT management capabilities under one roof.
“The term we’re using to describe this project is that it’s a ‘generational asset,’” Sasser says. “It’s a very unique building, and all of the things that come together in this building—the structure, the space, the available power—especially in a difficult market, it’s a very big deal. We’ve focused a lot of our energy and attention on it, and we plan on building this tower out for years to come.”