Stars of a certain hit television series would envy Grey Group’s new roof deck, where admen, adwomen and their clients sip cocktails while taking in New York’s skyline. The agency, which is known for E*Trade’s “Talking Baby” campaign and memorable slogans like “Choosy Moms Choose Jif,” recently relocated its global headquarters to 200 Fifth Avenue overlooking Madison Square Park. Grey Group negotiated use of a 6,000-square-foot portion of the building’s roof and engaged Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design a pavilion and terrace to host both work and social functions.
“The clients wanted the roof deck to be seen as an extension to their workspace, a place that speaks of collaboration and invention but not overtly corporate,” recalls SOM Design Partner Stephen Apking, FAIA. Grey Group imagined the deck as a setting for hosting product launches, press parties, workshops, and performances, but they also envisioned a relaxing space where employees could retreat at lunchtime or untether with their laptops.
New York rooftop state of mind
The existing roof’s terrain posed several challenges for the architects, requiring them to maneuver around infrastructure such as large piping along the parapet’s perimeter. But adding weight to the rooftop would require a structure to support new live and dead loads. Since the building is landmarked, the architects carefully considered sight lines from the street and avoided inserting any elements that would project above the balustrade.
Ultimately, it was the city’s skyline that drove the design. SOM drew inspiration from “the romantic idea we all have in New York of looking over the rooftops and seeing the water towers and metal penthouse structures,” describes Apking. The architects translated the traditional language of roofs into a modern material palette of painted metal, wood slats, concrete, and stone.
The design consists of three main elements: pavilion, terrace, and annex. The 14-foot-tall pavilion is framed with steel and functions as a sunscreen. Solar studies helped the project team determine orientation for the ipe wood louvers; as a bonus, the louvers lend visual texture. Beneath the pavilion, a 60-foot-long concrete counter accommodates bar and food service during functions, and biergarten-style communal tables facilitate meetings and informal gatherings. Adjacent to the rooftop’s parapet, the designers created bleachers and an elevated stage. This installation serves a dual purpose: it provides a grandstand for music performances and films projected onto a screen in the pavilion, and it also conceals the unsightly perimeter piping. The annex, the only conditioned portion of Grey Group’s new roof deck, contains restrooms and storage space for furnishings.
Light, color, action
The real star of Grey Group’s roof deck is its backdrop: the city views. The deck provides a front row seat to iconic buildings such as the MetLife Clock Tower, Empire State Building, and Flatiron Building. According to Apking, the architects visited the space during several times of day to observe sun angles, as well as at night. The roof deck’s lighting echoes the illuminated color schemes of surrounding skyscrapers. Fluorescent uplighting and gels create a cool blue glow along the perimeter for added ambience.
“SOM designed a gem of an urban oasis on our roof deck,” says John Grudzina, executive vice president of Grey Group. “It is a place for our people to summon their creative energies, socialize, and entertain.” It is also a rare gem: though a few hotels and bars have taken advantage of their roofscapes, these spaces are largely underutilized by commercial businesses in New York.
“This roof deck could become a model for other companies,” believes Apking. “Because we spend so much time indoors, New Yorkers hunger for the ability to step outside and feel the fresh air and sun.” Cheers to that.
Key Design Highlights
- Using solar studies and visiting the project site at various times of day, the design team oriented ipe wood louvers for the best sunscreening results.
- Planters with birch and maple trees screen Grey Group’s portion of the roof from that of the other tenants.
- Communal tables and a long concrete bar enable Grey Group to host a variety of meetings and functions.
Grey Group Roof Deck
Designer Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Client Grey Group
Where New York
What 6,000 square feet on one floor
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request