1221 Avenue of the Americas

Last updated in 1998, public spaces were renovated to include custom marble desks, white epoxy terrazzo floors, walls clad in Blue de Savoie stone, and soft, varied lighting. Photography by Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul

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Dan Shannon, principal at MdeAS Architects in New York, loves clever turns of phrase that succinctly describe his firm’s work. For its latest project, his utterly appropriate description is “from desolation to destination.” That sums up the renovation of the lobby at 1221 Avenue of the Americas, a 50-story tower built in 1972 that’s part of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Indeed, MdeAS turned a cluttered, nondescript entry into a welcoming, airy focal point— a showcase of activity both inside and out.

The ground-floor public spaces were last renovated in 1998. While less than 20 years old, the interior was somber and dated, with yellow limestone walls, low ceilings, dark marble flooring, spotty lighting, and the clanging sounds of mechanical turnstiles. The security desks were hard to find, and visitors felt confused and unwelcome.



For the new “light and bright” interior, as Shannon puts it, his firm removed the seemingly heavy materials from the interior and exterior of the ground level. MdeAS installed custom marble desks at the front, floor-to-ceiling low-iron glazing, and 12-foot-tall revolving glass doors. Floors are covered with white epoxy terrazzo, walls are clad in Blue de Savoie stone, and columns are enclosed with white metal. Ceiling-mounted LED strips, spotlights, and wall washers provide soft, expansive illumination.

“A building of this scale should have a sense of lightness, clarity, and grand entry,” says Shannon. “You should understand the monumentality, be able to see everything, and know what you’re supposed to do [upon entering].”

When visitors walk into the soaring lobby now, their path is clear. Intimately scaled elevator banks, clad in dark afrormosia wood panels carved with custom signage, contrast with the adjacent lightness. For an interstitial space connecting one end of the lobby to another, artist Mark Bradford was commissioned to create an artwork that would add vibrant color and drama. Entitled “Elgin Gardens,” the piece is composed of two facing paintings, each measuring 22½ square feet, paying homage to the energetic dynamics of city life; one references the urban grid of Midtown and Upper Manhattan, while the other depicts downtown and Lower Manhattan.

A revamped exterior plaza is a significant component of this project. Designed by Abel Bainnson Butz, the plaza includes thick green plantings, pearl gray marble benches, and many tables, injecting life into the midblock space. “People use it as an oasis in the middle of all this mayhem,” adds Bill Edwards, senior vice president at Rockefeller Group, the owner of the property. “The activation of the plaza is a key to both the exterior and the interior.”

The experience of entering the building has gone from what Shannon describes as “see nothing to see everything.” The openness and hum of activity make this renovation especially effective.

The building, which had been approximately 75 percent leased prior to the repositioning and the new plaza, is now at 98 percent with tenants including Comcast, Morgan Stanley, and the law firms Dentons. One of the newest tenants is the major law firm White & Case, which leases approximately 440,000 square feet of space and has its own entrance on the south side of the building. “Without this project we wouldn’t have White & Case here,” Edwards explains.

For Rockefeller Group, the renovation has paid dividends by re-energizing one of its modern towers for the next generation of tenants.

who Architect and interior designer: MdeAS Architects. Project team: Dan Shannon; Daniela Doneva Petrusev; Aura Maria Jaramillo. Contractor: Sciame Construction. Lighting: HDLC Architectural Lighting Design. Engineering: Arup. Landscape: Abel Bainsonn Butz. Graphics: Doyle Partners. Artist: Mark Bradford. Art Consultant: Elizabeth Gould Vales; Hauser & Wirth. Elevators: National Elevator Cab & Door.
what Paint: Benjamin Moore. Walls: Miller Druck Specialty Contracting; Continental Marble; Santucci Group; Bauerschmidt & Sons. Flooring: D. Magnan & Company; Miller Druck Specialty Contracting. Lighting: USA Illumination; Lite Lab. Doors: Dorma Crane. Architectural glass/glazing: Competition Architectural Metals; Euroglas; Glas Trösch; Bischoff Glastechnik. Decorative glass panels/ partitions: Mistral Architectural Metal & Glass. Reception desk: custom. Architectural/ custom woodworking: Bauerschmidt & Sons. Signage: Dale Travis Associates.