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520 MADISON AVENUE

(Between 53rd & 54th Streets)

Developer: Tishman Speyer Properties

Architect: Swanke Hayden & Connell Architects

Erected: 1982



View from the southeast

By Carter B. Horsley

This very impressive, polished red granite skyscraper, shown at the right, greatly reinforced the renaissance of the northern end of Madison Avenue led by the former I.B.M. and the former A.T.&T. (now SONY) buildings a couple of blocks further north.

Perhaps its best gesture of civility towards the avenue is its tiered roofline that steps down, in two slightly slanted steps, towards Madison Avenue, a very unusual and attractive top that unfortunately is not very visible from the street not only because the building is 43 stories high, but also because its facades are highly reflective and the top often seems to disappear into the sky. Surprisingly, the architects did not angle a couple of windows on the top floors to reflect the sculpted outline of the roof, which would have been a nice touch. 

The base of the building is very civilized as well with superb paving, a clock stanchion, and an attractive plaza with waterfall at its main entrance on East 53rd Street.

This is a partially slanted building, of course, and one of the more successful in large part because it occupies a full blockfront on the avenue. A major criticism often levied against the city's most famous sloped building, 9 West 57th Street, was that because it was not free-standing it broke with the street wall and was therefore unfriendly to its adjoining neighbors exposing their not-meant-to-be-seen ugly sides.

Unlike both 9 West 57th Street and its sister building, 1114 Avenue of the Americas facing Bryant Park, both designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, this building does not have its slant or slope end abruptly in a gutter at the second-story. Here there is no gutter and the design suffers a bit because of the lack of transition. The upper end of the slant works much better about a third of the way up the building. The slant is fairly steep and opens up a lot of "light and air" simply because of the size of the building.

The problem here basically is that the slant is not dramatic enough and the building's resulting proportions just miss. The elegance of the building's rich materials and fine craftsmanship outweigh the problem but the building ends up being substantive rather than superlative. Nevertheless, it is a prime address because of its high quality and its excellent art program. Der Scutt, who designed Trump Tower, was the design architect on this project for Swanke Hayden Connell and his high gloss originality again deserves kudos, although the impressive sidewalk clock stanchion needed a bigger face, but then maybe it's a ladies' sidewalk clock stanchion.

View from the northeastView from the northeast

View from the northeast

This project involves one of the city's celebrated "holdouts," Reidy's, an American-Irish restaurant that did not want to relocate and negotiated being able to stay open and have the building erected around it while also getting a small expansion. The pleasant, jovial and modestly priced restaurant protrudes about 10 feet out from the middle of the building on East 54th Street and its history one of the happier holdout stories, although a few years after the tower was completed the restaurant closed and was replaced by a brewery restaurant, which retained the extruded building element. The brewery lasted a few years and then was replaced by a "bistro."

View from Top of the Rock View from Top of the Rock

View from Top of the Rock observatory

In 2006, the building planned to change the seating arrangement in its south plaza to provide for a small outdoor cafe for a restaurant at that location.

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