New York’s Lovely Lobbies
Lobbies are fundamentally simple places that get people from the street to the elevators. Yet they are a building statement, a way for the architects and owners to announce their wealth, taste, or aesthetic goals. Many feature art installations. Some are unbelievably lavish—consider the Woolworth Building lobby. (Kind of ironic when you consider that Woolworth’s stores were based on thrift.) And more often, lobbies are becoming security screens. Many bristle with cameras, access control devices, and guards.
Choosing my favorite lobbies in New York is sort of like going into Saks Fifth Avenue and being asked to choose my favorite dress. Too many choices! So I set some parameters for myself. I decided to choose office building lobbies, the kind of place where you stand around taking in the scenery while the nice guy at the desk looks at your license and stares at a screen, which conceivably tells him if you are a terrorist or a bank robber.
I tried to avoid the obvious: the Empire State Building, which has a spectacular marble clad Art Deco lobby; the Daily News Building, which has that irresistible globe and makes you feel like Lois Lane; and the lobby to end all lobbies: the marbled, mural covered walls of the Chrysler Building.
So here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorites.
The New York Times Building
This colorful space features a bank of 560 small computer displays that show flickering bits and pieces of the newspaper and its archives. There is a great garden too that looks like a little piece of New England plunked down on Eighth Avenue.
32 Avenue of the Americas (AT&T Long Distance Building)
This massive, solid building features a huge lobby that is all shiny floors and mosaic tile ceilings. A map commemorates the first trans-Atlantic phone cable—top technology in 1915.
Fred F. French Building
This little vaulted-ceiling jewel box glitters with gold trim, spectacular lighting, and rich sapphire tones. Best of all, this building’s management knows they have a great lobby and they are happy to let you walk in and look at it.
7 World Trade Center
Ultra slick glass, marble, and a remarkable violet glow make this lobby feel like part of a movie set for some futuristic world where people eat food pills and wear one-piece jump suits. The best part is the Jenny Holzer art installation—words slowly sliding behind the security desk on a glass screen. Warning: the security is serious and they are not so happy to have you pop in to look around.
One Bryant Park
This is more than a lobby. It is a great place to duck into to make a phone call or escape from the rain. Of course you can get the subway here, or you can actually enter the building. There’s a nice mix of materials—wood, stone, glass, and metal. And a great bank of escalators that make you want to go for a ride.
CIT Group, 505 Fifth Avenue
The shifting neon interior features lighting designed by artist James Turrell. This is a testament to the fact that lighting is everything; turn off the neon and this lobby is simple and plain.
And, alright, I couldn’t resist. Here is one hotel and one loft building—both new on the New York scene:
The Bowery Hotel
Somewhere along the line, hotel lobbies went from restrained and stuffy to prime hangout spaces. This one features a ski-lodge-sized fireplace (good spot for a drink), a wood coffered ceiling, and an inviting outdoor seating area that says, “Sit here!”
220 Water Street, Brooklyn
Exposed brick warms up every space, including this soaring lobby. The building, built in 1893, is a former shoe factory. The glass-ceilinged lobby spans what was outdoor space between two wings of the old building. Aside from the usual lounge chairs and couches, there’s a coffee bar—good place to meet your new neighbors.