PARK AVENUE ATRIUM
(the block bounded by Lexington
Avenue, DePew Place and 45th and 46th Streets)
Developer: Olympia & York
Architect: The Office of Edward
By Carter B. Horsley
Good things sometimes come in big boxes. Behind
the bland facade of this very unattractive, boxy office building
is the city's most dazzling lobby. The skylit lobby was once the
central air shaft of a masonry office building that was contextually
related to Warren & Wetmore's Terminal City enclave around
Grand Central Terminal.
The polished pale pink granite exterior almost makes
this building seem to disappear under certain light conditions,
as can be seen in the photograph at the right, but the interior
is an overwhelming, explosive experience in all conditions.
A 23-story atrium banded by office windows
and reflective glass spandrels creates dizzying effects that are
steadied and improved by generous plantings on several setbacks
on the west wall.
The east wall has three banks of glass elevators,
thankfully rectilinear rather than bulbous, and their indentations
and movements make for an interesting view from the lobby-level
restaurant that only occupies about half the atrium lobby space.
All of the above, of course, would only result
in a pleasant and elegant variation of the various atrium schemes
of John Portman.
What makes this lobby great, however, is the
incredible hanging sculpture, "Winged Gamma," by Richard
Lippold that resembles wings worthy of a great pharaoh's falcon
or fans worthy of a great Japanese geisha.
The sculpture, shown at the left and at the top of
this article, has three main elements: two spread wings emanating
from globes and an arc ladder.
Executed in stainless steel and bronze and
about 18-stories or so in height, this sculpture creates dazzling
and mesmerizing views that are so entrancing that one must walk
all around the lobby and take the elevators and stop on various
floors to take it all it.
Unlike some of Lippold's other famous public
works such as those in the former Pan Am Building nearby, or at
the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing
Arts, this sculpture is not flimsy and is very coherent.
Lippold should be allowed to redo the building's
dreary facades by inlaying similar designs in stainless steel
and bronze on them.
Unfortunately, the steep grade and the fact
that the building had to be raised over the railroad tracks of
the nearby railroad station required that the lobby level be up
one flight from Lexington Avenue. The escalator lobby off the
avenue sadly gives no hint of the glorious space inside.
Olympia & York was one of several giant
Canadian development firms that followed the lead of Gerald D.
Hines of Houston in significantly upgrading the standard for speculative
commercial office buildings by emphasizing good design. Hines's
firm, in fact, developed the former Post Office building a block
south on Lexington Avenue and demonstrated its finesse with a
tower design that well complements the architecture of the base
building which it preserved.
The lobby here makes up for the inexcusable
and surprising blandness of the exterior and a new restaurant,
Colors, hopefully will introduce more people to this astonishing
In late 1999, The New York Times reported
that a new owner of the building was contemplating filling in
part of the atrium to create new rentable space. Hopefully this
idea will be abandoned for this is one of the city's few awesome