Powder Coatings Transform Iconic New York City Landmark

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019

Located in New York City’s South Street Seaport, Pier 17 anchors an extensive redevelopment project that is focused on transforming the historic Lower Manhattan neighborhood into a thriving cultural, retail and entertainment center. Yet for PPG and Spectrum Metal Finishing, the project is serving a secondary purpose: as the proving ground for the application of powder coatings on a high-profile architectural project in New York City’s challenging marine environment.

Four Demands

As the firm selected to rehabilitate Pier 17, a once-thriving festival pavilion that had devolved into a dreary indoor mall, SHoP Architects had four essential demands for the metal coatings supplier.

The first was that, due to its location on the East River five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the coating had to include a long-term warranty covering film integrity, chalk and color fade. The second was that the metal coating must be environment-friendly and help the project earn LEED certification points for the exterior curtain wall components. “We chose to use powder coatings on Pier 17 in order to be environmentally responsible. The fact that its use contributed to LEED points was an added benefit,” noted Sameer Kumar, director of enclosure design for SHoP Architects. “Powder coatings are being used on the majority of our build projects across the world. We have taken this stance in favor ofenvironmental responsibility,” he added. The third and fourth requirements were that the coatings applicator had to be certified by both the ISO (International Standards Organization) and the coatings manufacturer.

To meet the first objective, Scott Moffatt, PPG market manager, building products, suggested a fluoropolymer extrusion powder topcoat to be applied over a robust liquid primer.

“One-coat powder systems are increasingly popular and a good option for metal building components in normal building environments,” Moffatt explained. “They are not a good choice for applications like those on Pier 17, which are vulnerable to corrosion failure because they are constantly exposed to moisture and salt air. From PPG’s perspective, the only solution to achieving the warranty the architect required with a powder coating was to apply it as part of a two-coat system over a proven primer to optimize corrosion protection.”

To fulfill the rest of the demands, PPG turned to Spectrum Metal Finishing, which, in addition to being ISOcertified and a long-time PPG/CAP certified applicator, is one of the few companies of its kind to operate liquid and powder coating lines and accommodate large architectural components in the same facility. This enabled the company to finish the job in turn-key fashion under one roof.

PPG also worked extensively with the architect to develop a custom color for the aluminum curtain wall extrusions on Pier 17. Neil Chrisman, president, Spectrum Metal Finishing, said the architect wanted mill-finished aluminum with an industrial look and a clearcoat on top.

“They could never really achieve that look and still get the adhesion and warranty they wanted, so PPG came up with a silver color that looks like a weathered mill aluminum. I can’t tell you how many different submittals they did, but they eventually got the look they wanted,” he added.

Let the Sunshine In

Another unusual aspect of the Pier 17 project is the application of PPG liquid coatings, which are designed primarily for exterior metals, on more than 500 interior wall panels that are visible through two stacked rows of 20-foottall light boxes that compose much of the building façade.

“Spectrum developed this very unique stencil, basically a dot matrix pattern, to diffuse sunlight as it comes through the light boxes,” Chrisman explained. “We painted the metal panels with a silver-grey Duranar SUNSTORM® coating, then applied the stencil and painted them again with a bone-white coating. After the second coat dried, we peeled off the stencil.”

During the day, the sunlight coming through the light boxes strikes the dot pattern and diffuses. At night, the dot pattern helps disperse the spray of colors projected onto the building, giving the façade a bright, carnival-like appearance.

“Everything looks beautiful and there is no risk of the panels inside the glass chalking or fading from UV exposure because they are finished with [exterior-durable coatings],” Chrisman said. “The metal panels also eliminated the need for the expensive glass frits that were originally specified for the job, which was a significant cost savings.”

The powder coatings used for Pier 17’s curtain wall are based on the same 70 percent polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) formulation as its PPG liquid coating equivalent, which has been trusted to protect and beautify buildings for more than 50 years.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, powder coatings provide hard surfaces that are extremely resistant to damage during fabrication, shipping, installation and use. When applied over a liquid or powder primer, they are an exceptional choice for harsh seacoast and industrial environments.

The liquid coatings featured in the light boxes incorporate the same two-coat application as conventional 70 percent PVDF coatings, with the addition of a mica pearlescent flake to create a dazzling metalescent appearance.

Opened in the summer of 2018, Pier 17 is seen nationally every night as the waterfront broadcast studios for ESPN, the building’s first major tenant. Surrounded by a vast riverfront esplanade, the building’s rooftop also houses an open-air marketplace and concert venue with panoramic views of many New York landmarks. Just a few years ago, powder coatings wouldn’t have been an option for a project like this, but innovations in technology and an invigored environmental focus have made powder coating an attractive option in the architectural space. 

Owner: Howard Hughes Corp., New York 
Architect: SHoP Architects; New York 
Coatings Supplier: PPG Industrial Coatings 
PPG Certified Coatings Applicator: Spectrum Metal Finishing; Youngstown, Ohio


Justin Epler is director of coil and building products for PPG.