YIMBY attended the recent unveiling of the newly renovated lobby of 550 Madison Avenue, a 37-story, 684-foot-tall office skyscraper in Midtown East. Designed by Gensler and developed by The Olayan Group and RXR Realty, the project involves a 21,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor overhaul of the 1984 postmodern landmark from Philip Johnson and John Burgee. In addition to the updated lobby, which features an art installation from Polish-German contemporary visual artist Alicja Kwade called Solid Sky, the undertaking will also provide a new café, elevated and ground-level landscaping, expanded seating with additional tables, and public restrooms. 550 Madison Avenue spans between East 55th and 56th Streets.
“550 Madison is a unique landmark in New York City that carries a rich history,” said Erik Horvat, managing director of Real Estate at Olayan America. “Our goal with Gensler and other design partners is to add modern upgrades that will ensure its future, while also preserving its history. We are thrilled to have Gensler reimagining the building’s lobby to create a beautiful and functional space that also respects Philip Johnson’s original design.”
“We were inspired by the large volumes and spatial proportions of the 550 Madison lobby and sought to honor its impressive scale with simple, classical, elegant forms and materials,” said Philippe Paré, principal and design director of Gensler. “The outcome is a space which is both quiet, yet powerful; respectful, yet not a reproduction; timeless, yet very much contemporary.”
“Alicja Kwade’s iconic work of art is a bold, striking gesture, much in the spirit of Philip Johnson’s original design for 550 Madison,” said Alex Toledano, president of VISTO, 550 Madison’s art consultancy. “Solid Sky respects the building’s groundbreaking architecture, at once integrated with its surroundings, while also playing with and challenging them by its mesmerizing color, weight, and lightness. Kwade’s work also extends the building’s tradition of showcasing renowned female artists’ work, including Dorothea Rockburne murals which remain, and Evelyn Longman’s Golden Boy, which previously resided in the building.”
Photographs show the clean and minimalist lobby space with its soaring triple-height vaulted ceiling and its 110-foot-tall arched entryway. Materials on all four corners of the space include terrazzo, leather, and bronze mesh. Hanging 12 feet above the lobby floor and dangling in the center from the ceiling is Solid Sky, a representation of Earth made of Azul do Macaubas stone weighing a whopping 24 tons.
“This rock is the result of a metamorphosis that took place over 1 billion years ago, and was created under great pressure and elevated temperatures,” said artist Alicja Kwade. “A metamorphosis always has something metaphysical and magical about it. Due to the blue color of the stone, the ball appears like planet earth—very fragile and small, in comparison to the entirety of the universe. It is an ambitious and emotional project, taking place on one of the most famous streets in the world.”
550 Madison Avenue is also in the process of adding a new triple-height, steel-framed, and glass-enclosed garden space designed by Snøhetta in the western rear of the property. AECOM Tishman is the general contractor, Orange County Ironworks is the steel fabricator, and Gabriel Steel Erectors is assembling the addition. Click here for more details about this component of the building.