The windows in the State Tower were originally designed to give each tenant space maximum natural light. They were very large, with twelve lights per window. Each large, central light had an awning window above and a hopper window below for ventilation in the age when air conditioning was limited to industrial and large commercial spaces such as department stores and theaters. Ironically, Syracuse-based Carrier Corporation, under the leadership of Willis Carrier, introduced the first window-mounted air conditioner in 1928, the same year the State Tower opened.
Unfortunately, the old windows no longer serve their functions well. Their single pane construction provides poor protection from winter's cold and the summer sun. The single pane of glass has an R-value (a measure of its insulating power) of approximately 0.9. Today's high-tech windows claim R-values as high as 8 -- nine times better. Because they swing in and out, the hopper and awning windows do not and can not have insect screens, a concern in the summer since Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus are rare but potentially fatal mosquito-borne diseases that are viable threats to public health throughout New York State.
The old single-pane windows are relatively fragile, due in part to the flexible steel sashes holding the panes and the size of the window openings. Glazing often cracked and broke in high winds, sometimes showering shards of glass onto the sidewalk.
The vintage window frames and mullions are often rusted and encrusted with layers of glazing compound and paint applied over the decades, often without masking. The screws and retainers holding the glass panes onto the sashes are painted over, so paint must be scraped off to replace the glass and then the windows must be repainted after the repair. Their decrepit condition allows air leakage and often makes them very difficult to close properly.
The last time the State Tower Building changed hands in 1991, the new owners pledged to replace all of the original, leaky, drafty windows with new, energy efficient units. As of 2005, only about half of the windows have been replaced. New windows are added slowly and only for new tenants willing to pay top dollar for Class A office or equipment space freshly built-out at their expense. Also making replacement difficult is the building has a patchwork of air conditioners. Some floors have units tied in with the building's chillers. Some suites have individual units also tied into the building's chillers. Others have their own chillers venting through grilles. Many have small capacity 1950s/1960s vintage window air conditioning units (which required frequent maintenance and recharging of the refrigerant). The building declined to replace these with newer units that are more reliable and energy efficient. Installing non-venting windows would make this last group of suites unbearably hot in the summertime.
The replacement windows bring their own problems. Each is a sealed, double glazed unit which is “non-venting,” which means they can’t be opened. Muntins cut from anodized strips of aluminum are applied to the glass with double-sided adhesive tape to simulate the divided lite look of the original windows. For whatever reason (poor surface preparation, age, weathering), the tape on some windows has failed, dropping muntins onto the sidewalk. As these muntins weight several ounces each and have sharp corners, they have the potential to cause serious bodily harm should they strike someone up to 20 stories below. Since the new windows can’t be opened, there is no way to ascertain the condition of the adhesive tape before they actually fall unless they are visibly detaching, peeling or sagging. A walk around the building reveals quite a few such muntins, in addition to missing ones, too many to document here. Bridgewater Place in Franklin Square, with similarly decorated windows, has the same problem, as seen above.
The muntins aren’t the only problem with objects falling from the windows. A more regular problem occurs after every heavy snowfall. Snow and ice builds up on the window sills during the snowfall, usually on the Warren Street and Water Street sides due to the prevailing northwesterly winds. The sills are smooth and slope outward. Once the building warms the snow enough to create a thin film of water between it and the sill, the buildup slides off and plummets to the sidewalk at high speed, similar to the problems sloped roofs have with snow buildup. There have been many near misses and at least one person struck by falling snow and ice. City code enforcement inspectors working in nearby City Hall Commons on at least one occasion ordered the Warren Street entrance temporarily locked and roped off to protect people from falling ice. As with the muntin problems, because there is no way to open the newer windows and no legal means to access them from the outside, those sills cannot be roughened to create a surface that will maintain a grip on accumulated snow and ice.
Until several years ago, the State Tower Building contracted with a window washing company to clean the exteriors of the windows. The workers would lower themselves down the side of the building on boatswain’s chairs, little more than a wooden board attached to a stout rope. At that time, a safety inspector arrived on-site and ordered the window cleaners to cease and desist. According to New York State Department of Labor regulations for window cleaning, boatswain’s chairs cannot be used more than 75 feet above street level without prior approval, and approval will not be granted unless davits and other rigging for suspended scaffolds cannot be installed. This is not the case with the State Tower. Since that time, the outside of the modern windows have not been cleaned. Only the old windows can been cleaned by opening them and reaching outside, although this is not done on a regular basis.