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Selene, 100 East 53rd Street: Review and Ratings

between Lexington Avenue & Park Avenue View Full Building Profile

Carter Horsley
Review of 100 East 53rd Street by Carter Horsley

This 63-story, mixed-use tower at 122 East 53rd Street on the southwest corner of 54th Street and Lexington Avenue was developed by Aby Rosen and designed by Sir Norman Foster.

The 10-story base of the development, which was initially known as 610 Lexington Avenue, is on the avenue and the tower, which rises 712 feet, is mid-block, and uses air rights purchased from the adjacent Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue, which Mr. Rosen owns, and the black-glass tower at 600 Lexington Avenue.  

The project, which is expected to be completed in 2016, will have 17 residential condominium units on the top 11-stories of the tower over 207 hotel rooms.

Bottom Line

This sleek new, thin, silvery mid-block tower will hover over the adjacent, bronze-color, landmark Seagram Building on Park Avenue and catty-corner to the taller, silvery, Citicorp Center on Lexington Avenue.

Description

The narrow tower will have slightly projecting bay windows on its east and west façades and will be 117 feet west of the Seagram Building.

It will be separated from a new low-rise building on the avenue by an atrium.

History

In a November 22, 2005 presentation at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Foster concentrated on the visual impact the new tower might have on the "iconic" view of the Seagram Building from across Park Avenue. From street-level in front of the Racquet & Tennis Club across the avenue, they maintained that the new tower would not be visible and from the 53rd Street corner it would only be slightly visible and not appear taller than the 515-foot-high Seagram Building, which, in fact, it dwarfs.

The new tower is setback 10 feet from 53rd Street and its "bustle" is a low-rise "pavilion" on Lexington Avenue, where it maintains the street-wall and has retail spaces and it is separated from the tower by an atrium with entrances to hotel facilities in the lower portion of the tower and condominium apartments on the upper floors. The new tower will be separated from the tower of the Seagram Building by about 117 feet.

The Seagram Building is one of the great monuments of modern architecture in part because it only uses just over half of its site.

Sir Norman told the commission that the most harmonious way to relate to the bronze-colored Seagram Building was by contrast and using a light façade. Although he said that final details of the façade was still being explored, he indicated that the current plan calls for a "faceted" approach, one that recalls to a certain extent the unrealized Frederikstrasse project by Mies van der Rohe. The plan for the new tower, therefore calls for "faceted" façades on the east and west façades. He said that the north and south façades, however, would be straight. The tower's dimensions in plan are very small, only 90 feet on the east and west façades and 46 feet on the north and south façades. As a result, the new tower would only rise above the northern portion of the Seagram Building.

Sir Norman Foster is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost "high-tech" architects and his famous projects include the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters in Hong Kong, the Commerzbank Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Great Court at the British Museum in London.

While it was not discussed or mentioned at the commission's hearing, the light façade would obviously be in context with the 915-foot-high Citicorp Center that is cattycorner across Lexington Avenue from the new tower.

Mr. Rosen, one of the principals of RFR Realty LLC, said in an interview at the commission hearing that the building will contain 80 to 90 condominium apartments and 45 to 50 hotel rooms.

Mr. Rosen said that the new tower will only utilize about 90 percent of the available, unused air rights from the Seagram Building.

Sir Norman told the commission that if the building were erected "as of right" it would be about 811 feet high, but he termed that scheme "not entirely successful."

Mr. Rosen said that Hines, the Houston-based developer and real estate owner that owns the third property on the block, the 36-story, black-glass-clad tower formerly known as Manhattan Tower at 600 Lexington Avenue will be the construction manager for the new tower.

RFR Realty LLC bought the mid-rise building at 610 Lexington Avenue, the former home of the YWCA.

Under the terms of the "74-79" application that Mr. Rosen was planning to use, the developers will pledge to restore and maintain the landmark Seagram Building and will establish a covenant with the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a civic organization, to that effect. Spokespersons for the Municipal Art Society and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, told the landmarks commission that their groups supported it.

A spokesperson for the Historic Districts Council, however, told the commission that "the new, enormous building" will have "a negative impact" on the Seagram Building and that her organization therefore does not support the project.

Roberta Brandes Gratz, a member of the commission, remarked during the hearing that the new project was "quite exciting" given “the horror of images of how wrong this could be," adding that the design "almost feels natural."

The new design, however, is hardly "natural." It will become one of the city's slenderest towers, a mid-block "sliver" almost without peer. Although the city adopted anti-"sliver" zoning sometime ago, it was aimed primarily at largely residential neighborhoods, and while it had the support of many neighborhood groups it was a conservative attempt to rally around the architectural flag of "contextualism," then very popular.

Given the tower's slenderness, one is prone to wonder whether its "bustle" pavilion along Lexington Avenue will take away a bit from its drama and whether it should have a plaza at the corner, or, perhaps, mid-block. Given that 599 Lexington Avenue, the blue-green tower directly across the avenue and just to the south of Citicorp Center, has a very large and handsome triangular plaza directly across the street at the 53rd Street corner and that Citicorp has a substantial sunken plaza at the same corner.

The commission unanimously approved a declaration in support of a special permit from the City Planning Commission, which will hold its own hearings on the project, and the commissioners were obviously delighted by Sir Norman as well as greatly impressed with the intent of the developers to give the New York Landmarks Conservancy a covenant assuring the maintenance of the Seagram Building in the future.

There was little discussion of aesthetics at the commission's hearing, which was a bit odd, but its decision to support the project was very encouraging and a bit a courageous given the anti-high-rise sentiment of so many planners and civic groups in the city over the past few decades, a sentiment that had it cropped up earlier would have deprived the city of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, 20 Exchange Place, 30 Rockefeller Center, 570 Lexington Avenue, and 70 Pine Street, just to name the most obvious skyscraper glories of the city.

ING Real Estate Finance and Swedbank began foreclosure proceedings against the planned, 709-foot-high, Shangri-La Hotel and residential condominium project at 610 Lexington Avenue on the southwest corner at 53rd Street in 2009.

The lenders decided to foreclose on $144.2 million in loans and fees used to buy, plan and develop the site, according to court records.  The original loan had been issued in April, 2007, by Lehman Brothers Holdings and had a repayment date of October 8, 2008, but was transferred in stages to ING and Swedbank by November, 2008.

A June 16 filing indicated that the developer was “unable to refinance its loan by an April 8 deadline, and so ING determined the loan was in default on June 15, the filing says.”

In April, Crain’s reported that Shangri-La had pulled out of managing the hotel portion of the project. 

When the initial application was approved by the commission last fall, Mr. Rosen said that the building will contain 80 to 90 condominium apartments and 45 to 50 hotel rooms.

The revised plan, subsequently approved by the commission, called for only 17 apartments on the top 11 floors of the tower, and 207 hotel rooms.

Mr. Foster was also the architect for another Aby Rosen project, the redevelopment of the former Parke-Bernet Building at 980 Madison Avenue.  Two of his designs for that project, however, where rejected by the landmarks commission.  

Mr. Foster, who had designed the notched glass and stainless steel tower atop the old Hearst Building on the southwest corner of 57th Street and Eighth Avenue, was not idle and designed at tall residential tower for the Zeckendorfs across from the United Nations on First Avenue and is also designed a mid-rise residential building in Chelsea.

The very slender tower will be separated from the tower of the 515-foot-high Seagram Building by 117 feet.

Under the terms of the application that will go before the City Planning Commission, the developers will pledge to restore and maintain the landmark Seagram Building and will establish a covenant with the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a civic organization, to that effect.  Spokespersons for the Municipal Art Society and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said their groups supported it.

Although the north and south façades of the tower will be straight, the east and west façades will have sleek and not very deep bay windows.

Rosen and his partners bought the former YMCA building on the site for about $31.5 million.

Sir Norman Foster is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost “high-tech” architects and his famous projects include the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in England, the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters in Hong Kong, and the Great Court at the British Museum in London.

Rating

28
Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 28 / 44

+
25
Out of 36

Location Rating: 25 / 36

+
19
Out of 39

Features Rating: 19 / 39

+
9
=
81

CityRealty Rating Reference

 
Architecture
  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
 
Location
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
 
Features
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #16 Rated condo - Midtown East
 
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