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