The New York Times ( View Original )

Lobby at 3 Bryant Park

The retro ’80s look is all the rage in fashion, but it does require updating. The same could be said for Metropolitan Tower on West 57th Street.

Characterized in The New York Times in 1986, when it was built, as “aggressive and crude,” the black-clad structure has two segments: a 78-story residential tower and an 18-story commercial unit. The smaller building had been almost completely occupied by the Ann Taylor headquarters until the fashion retailer moved to Times Square in October, vacating approximately 150,000 square feet of office space.

That move provided the owner of the commercial space, the L&L Holding Company, with the opportunity to undertake a renovation of the building. The centerpiece is a lobby upgrade, designed by Jonathan Marvel, principal of Rogers Marvel Architects.

Buildings large and small in need of updating are being repositioned to take advantage of Manhattan’s hot commercial market, with owners paying special attention to the “curb appeal” of well-designed lobbies to attract premium tenants.

In the case of the smaller part of the Metropolitan Tower, just letting people know the building exists was the top priority. Situated next door to the residential tower, the office building seems almost an afterthought. The entryway does not have its own sidewalk canopy, and many new visitors enter the condo lobby first, only to be ushered out by the doorman.

“The new entryway will have an angular, cantilevered canopy that projects out onto the street as well as into the lobby,” Mr. Marvel said on a tour of the commercial property.

Inside, the dark, somewhat foreboding, concierge station blocking the elevator bank will be replaced with a glowing glass box of white light (which will change colors to reflect the weather or the season or even the time of day).

The centerpiece of the $1-million-plus lobby design, however, will be a four-inch L.E.D. display of the latest news, stock market activity, sports results and entertainment information in a continuous stream that will run the length of the lobby, which goes all the way through to 56th Street, about 175 feet.

“So many buildings look badly modified,” said L&L’s chief executive, David W. Levinson, who is asking approximately $75 a square foot. “This design maintains the building’s original elegance.”

An even smaller, less conspicuous commercial building that is just now completing a major renovation is 6 West 58th Street, owned for decades by Robert Posner and Yumiko Honda of the Charter Management Company. They hired Josephine Sokolski, the founder and principal of JCS Design Associates, to redesign the lobby.

By moving a stairway, Ms. Sokolski was able to turn a narrow and cramped vestibule and lobby into a small but grand public space with a barrel ceiling and back-lighted dome. “By creating volume, it looks and feels larger than it is,” Ms. Sokolski said.

Mr. Posner added, “It changes the character of the building and the prospective tenants who make offers on the space.”

He is asking an average annual rent of $55 a square foot for the 12-story building, with 71,000 square feet available. “These are rents that are 33 percent higher than before the lobby was done,” he said.

3 Bryant Park, View from 42nd Street

The former Verizon building at 1095 Avenue of the Americas, overlooking Bryant Park, which was acquired by Equity Office Properties for more than $500 million last year, had the opposite problem: its lobby was big and cavernous and unwelcoming.

As part of the new owner’s repositioning of the building, which is currently under way, Gensler Architects (in collaboration with Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects) is gut-renovating not one but two lobbies: the ground floor space and a sky lobby on the 23rd floor, where, under the current design, tenants will be able to take in a western view of Times Square and the Hudson River while enjoying coffee service.

The building “faces Bryant Park on the east side, but on the west side there’s a plaza, and the public space connects those two features,” said Leslie Jabs, managing architect of Gensler. “You get light all the way through; however, it creates substantial depth. So architecturally how do you maintain that without feeling like you’re in an endless space?”

One of the solutions was to create an interior space near the elevator bank that will become a lounge where people can sit and collect themselves.

“The lounge slows everything down a bit,” Ms. Jabs said. “The trend we’re seeing is a softening of lobbies, to make them a little more comfortable. It’s in part a reaction to the mausoleum lobbies of the past, as well as the harshness that increased security can have.”

According to CB Richard Ellis, which is the leasing agent for the building, upper floors are commanding $100 a square foot.

“Every major office tower that has experienced significant vacancy has taken that opportunity to redesign and upgrade the lobby,” said Bob Alexander, chairman of the tristate region for CB Richard Ellis. “By doing the lobby, you’ve positioned yourself to attract the premier tenants.”