The Rewards and Challenges of Designing Landmarked Spaces


We enjoy designing in landmark spaces for many reasons: retention of history, authenticity, commemorating the past and unbeatable aesthetics among them. There’s a sense of texture, craftsmanship and style that historic buildings evoke that you’d be hard-pressed to replicate.
That’s why when it came time to select Spector’s own office space a few years ago we were drawn to the second floor of 183 Madison Avenue, a landmark building with Art Deco character. The wrought iron exterior elements, gold leaf details, paint on the facade and storied lobby set the perfect stage for the clean, modern space we envisioned within it. Basing the company there brought instant pedestrian and visitor appeal.

Our work in two other iconic buildings both owned by RFR–375 Park Avenue and 390 Park Avenue—colored our positive feelings about the matter. In fact, we had the pleasure of designing for single tenants in both of the towers as they made moves from one to the other. The rewards were well worth any challenges we encountered.
At 375 Park Avenue, the Seagram Building, there were some specific design obstacles to work around. For starters, the first 15 feet of the ceiling area from the facade of the skyscraper must be maintained and respected. The interior has existing infrastructure to consider, including luminous ceilings that must be preserved and acrylic capping on the florettes and tubing, all of which can yellow over time. When designing, you must use the same landmark-approved manufacturer for any replacements. Lead-coated copper mullion systems, convector elements and low-profile fan coils to heat the perimeter must also keep to the design aesthetic put in place by the building’s famed modernist architect Mies van der Rohe. Details need to be preserved right down to the paint color of the radiators. Yes, these pose some difficulties, but the architectural pluses are many.

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Our experience was similar working on the top floor of 390 Park Avenue, also known as the Lever House. As the first curtain wall glass building in Manhattan, it’s an attractive landmark building that suits a variety of tenants. Again, while extra time was needed for permitting and having a “letter of no effect” to present to the buildings department, the experience was rewarding and worth the work. In this particular case, there are no parameters once you hit the interior of the building. The process took weeks, not months.

The end result in each of these cases was magnificent. The preserved elements increased commercial value and limited debris and waste. By tying the old with the new, we were able to create interesting, dynamic spaces that speak of the past while looking eagerly toward the future.

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 1,500 projects.