Inside the Archtober Building of the Day #18: 200 Fifth Avenue

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

Building of the Day #18: 200 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY

Beautiful weather continues to make Archtober the best month ever to enjoy great architecture. Madison Square, where 200 Fifth Avenue is located, is a palimpsest of the northward expansion of commerce and civilization in Manhattan. A public space since 1686, it first became a park in 1847. With the construction of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, (Griffith Thomas with William Washburn Architects, 1859) on the site of the current 200 Fifth, the area became the social, cultural, and political hub of elite New York in the years after the Civil War—think Edith Wharton. And it has the monuments to prove it.

200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

The swank hotel gave way in 1909 to a 14-story office building, by architects Maynicke & Franke, designers of more than 100 New York City buildings, many in the nearby Ladies Mile Historic District. It is this structure (formerly the Toy Center) that STUDIOS Architecture addressed in its LEED Gold restoration and renovation. That old Toy Center building cleaned up really well! All of the seediness of the 1990s decline has vanished both in the surrounding buildings and in the park as well. The repositioning miracle has drawn a cadre of high style tenants, and I was lucky today to get a personal tour of the Grey offices, also designed by STUDIOS Architecture and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The Grey offices are sparkling with light from generous perimeter windows, replaced in the restoration, and from the enormous central courtyard with white reflecting paving and terracotta cladding. It functions as a center around which the hipster creatives can lounge, chat, or spiff up Don Draper style for the next big pitch. For the company that brought us the talking E*Trade baby, I was pleasantly surprised to find none of the Sesame Place silliness of current interiors for other media and information technology companies. There’s good art, good furniture, beautiful Persian rugs, and an atmosphere that is both collaborative and individual at the same time. Plenty of nooks and crannies for quiet creative thinking. Nice open planning and firm-wide assembly areas. No kitsch in their kitchens either. Nice job!

-Cynthia Kracauer

200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

200 Fifth Avenue. (Cynthia Kracauer/Center for Architecture)

To take the tour of tomorrow’s Building of the Day click here: East Harlem School.

Each “Building of the Day” has received a Design Award from the AIA New York Chapter. For the rest of the month—Archtober—we will write here a personal account about the architectural ideas, the urban contexts, programs, clients, technical innovations, and architects that make these buildings noteworthy. Daily posts will track highlights of New York’s new architecture.


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