(Northwest corner at Lexington Avenue
Developer: Madison Equities
Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox
By Carter B. Horsley
Madison Equities, headed by Robert Gladstone,
emerged in the 1970's as one of Manhattan's more adventurous developers,
and this is its flagship, a Post-Modem building of considerable
It is also the one of the best New York buildings
by Kohn Pedersen Fox, a New York-based architectural firm that
since the beginning of the 1980's has been The best high-rise
architectural firm in the nation, although it is far from that
firm's best work, which reflects only the terrible restrictive
and inane building and zoning regulations of New York.
As Elliot Willensky and Norval White correctly
observe in their "AIA Guide To New York City,"
published in 1988 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, this building
is "New York's response to the French architecture of Spaniard
Ricardo Bofill and his arcuated housing for Paris," if "arcuated"
means what I think it means, arc-employing. Bofill's grandiose
classicizing, of course, has been perhaps the best and highest
expression yet of the Post-Modern movement in architecture as
he created very handsome housing projects on a monumental scale
rather than mere pastiches of historical allusion best suited
for cardboard beach houses.
Kohn Pedersen Fox has consistently experimented
with form and facade treatments with a master's refined touch,
although the detailing sometimes, as here, looks as if it were
filled in by some studio assistant. (The firm's only other completed
New York building is the impressive and quite original office
tower 712 Fifth Avenue (see The City Review
article) that incorporates the new Bendel's store and considerable
preservation of three existing small Fifth Avenue office buildings.)
Here the concave corner arc of the office tower
is majestic and gives lie to the rule that midtown Manhattan's
streetwalls must be sacrosanct. The rounded arc of the corner
plaza is gracious and inviting and quite well needed in this very
dense neighborhood of narrow sidewalks and very high pedestrian
and automobile traffic generated by nearby Bloomingdale's and
the Queensborough Bridge.
The building's form is complex. The 32-story
tower's facade facing the plaza rises without setback except near
the top where it is slightly angled at the south and east interfaces
before the large curved arc. The subtle effect lessens the sharpness
of the arc's edges and modulates the crown in a simple, but interesting
way. Along 57th Street, the building almost seems to be split
into two with a shorter western wing with a different treatment
of its top. In essence, the building is creating its own mini-environment
The vertical fenestration patterns are strong,
rhythmic and fine, although the detailing of the mullions is a
The greatest problem with the overall design
is the plaza's tempietto.
The concept is intriguing: a tall, open ring
supported by columns over a circular seating area with side fountains.
The ring obviously ties in with the curved arc of the tower's
main entrance facade facing the plaza and was properly left open
to afford dramatic, framed views of the tower, as shown below.
What's wrong is its detailing.
The tempietto has the same light gray coloration
of the building's facing and the sidewalks. One desperately wishes
that the buildings budget could have been stretched for better
materials here, namely, burgundy colored marbles or polished granite
for the columns or red poryphry, and a bright large patterned
sidewalk, perhaps modeled after Michelangelo's swirling, elliptical
piazza designs for the Campidoglio at the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Notwithstanding its basic drabness, the tempietto
is a wonderful folly. Perhaps someday someone will erect nice,
abstract, classically draped statues of major tenants or the like
around the tempietto's crown.
The developer certainly had antiquarianism
in mind for the project created a three-level antiques center
with its own very handsome entrance in the middle of the block
on 57th Street. Known as the Place des Antiquaires, the center
had its own elegant glass-enclosed elevator to provide access
to the first basement level and escalators from there to a second
basement level. The large facility opened with several major antique
dealers and was the best of several such centers in the city.
But such centers have had difficult times because many important
dealers like their own individual street-level presence. Nevertheless,
this center's ambiance and excellent location gave it a good shot
at success. The building opened, however, at the beginning of
the city's worst depression since the 1930's, so the center has
had problems, but it still was a major reinforcement and expansion
of 57th Street's traditions of being a major art gallery center.
Madison Equities, of course, was also the developer
of the Galleria, the very tall, setback, mixed-use tower in the
middle of the same 57th Street block (see The
City Review article). Its new office building makes no contextual
effort towards the Galleria, although it does have a very small
attractive mid-block plaza adjacent to the Galleria's incredibly
That decision was well-founded for the Galleria's
dark-brown tower festooned with glass-enclosed "wintergarden'
balconies and its very complex and ungainly, custom-designed penthouse
is less than glorious. Fortunately, its substantial setback means
that the really important contest is the wonderful Ritz Tower
(see The City Review article) at the other
end of the block on Park Avenue and its motif if neoclassical
so there is no problem with the new tower.
By breaking the traditional rectilinear mode
at such an important location, and doing so with style and elegance,
Madison Equities and Kohn Pedersen Fox deserve praise. The plaza
and the tempietto can always be upgraded, but the project has
already substantially upgraded Lexington Avenue and the eastward
expansion of the elegant part of 57th Street.