Where the sky is no limit

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If you've been driving into Manhattan over the

Queensborough Bridge in recent weeks, you might have noticed the scaffolding

peeling away from a pale, silvery new tower with a gentle twilight halo. That's

731 Lexington Ave., aka the Bloomberg Tower, a building with a demure skyline

presence that grows funkier and more assertive as it moves down. This is a

tower with its soul in the street.

Its heart is a cobbled oval that links 58th and 59th streets, a private

driveway disguised as a public piazza called Beacon Court. If it were truly

open - if security guards did not track your steps through the premises or

prohibit snapshots - it would be a marvelous civic gift. The East Side has so

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few pauses in its hectic grid that the ellipse could become a beloved little

enclave, a meeting place just off the frenetic bustle of Lex.

Aspiring to greatness

The chief architect, Rafael Pelli, son and associate of Cesar Pelli, began

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his career working for Hugh Hardy on the fantastically successful refurbishment

of the open-air parlor called Bryant Park. With the Bloomberg Tower's plaza,

he aspired to make another great New York enclosure, akin to Grand Central

Station, the reading room of the New York Public Library, the skating rink at

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Rockefeller Center or the World Financial Center Winter Garden, which his

father designed.

Whether he succeeded will depend on how animated the plaza becomes - which

will in turn depend on the quality of the restaurant that moves into the

eastern curve - but already it is a special space.

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Up, up and away

Like the library's reading room, where pink-tinged clouds dapple painted

blue heavens on the ceiling, Beacon Court frames the sky. The glass walls

sweeping around the perimeter tilt slightly inward, drawing the eye into a

rising spiral that goes twisting out of the urban canyon. Anyone can furnish a

view from the 50th floor; Pelli has designed one from the sidewalk, looking up.

He has also designed a new street theater. The oval is roughly the size and

shape of an 18th-century opera house; the 58th Street entrance faces a

narrower proscenium opening, capped by a stainless-steel arch. The spectators

in the galleries all work for Bloomberg LP, whose offices wrap like galleries

around the opening. Their frenzied activity and a blaring news crawl, visible

from the street, provide additional drama under glass.

A kinetic, baroque sensibility infuses this curvaceous spot. It's startling

not just because Manhattan is so rectilinear, but because it offsets the

tower's austere form. The link is in the surface - not the plain, flat skin of

tinted glass that sheathes so many midtown offices, but a textured, twinkling

hide.

The glass is ribbed and translucent in some places, smooth and clear in

others. Each pane's exact degree of reflectivity is calibrated, depending on

what takes place behind it. An utterly transparent band of windows at torso

height runs around the restaurant, so diners inside having an expensive good

time can incite envy in those outside without reservations.

The story of the stories

Horizontal tubes of stainless steel hover nearly 2 feet from the sides of

the court like rungs of a great curved ladder. (Security guards are primed to

tackle anyone who tries to climb them.) The tubes and the slender struts that

hold them in place cast complicated shadows or reflections onto the faceted

glass walls, so the whole surface dances in the changing light.

The tower itself has a more regular rhythm, the beat of each story accented

by a floor-level white metal band that sticks out all the way around. At the

30th floor, where the tower turns residential and the ceiling heights shrink,

the bands come closer together, as if the drummer had picked up the pace,

accelerating into the diffuse white glow of the crown.

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