Since the glory days of Skidmore Owings and Merrill in the early post-war era, it is doubtful that any architectural firm has done more to enhance the look of Midtown than the highly competent and undersung firm of Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects.
In large part, this firm has been called in on more than a dozen projects to clean up the mess created not by Skidmore Owings and Merrill itself, but by those far inferior firms who slavishly imitated it in constructing soulless voided glass boxes during the 1950s through the 1970s.
Among the buildings that have benefited in recent years from Moed de Armas’ ministrations are 1120 and 1095 Avenue of the Americas, as well as 340 and 510 Madison Avenue. Most of the firm’s projects, however, are tasteful and serene updates to mid-century buildings, and one of the firm’s latest examples is 545 Madison Avenue.
This 17-story, 140,000-square-foot building, located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 55th Street, is somewhat smaller than its other resurrections, most notably the former New York Telephone building at 1095 Avenue of the Americas. Developed by LCOR and advertised as a boutique office building, 545 Madison Avenue looks in its latest incarnation like a sleek, sheer expanse of curtain wall, somewhat dark, with paler infill between floors.
Moed de Armas usually likes to exploit sheer expanses of wall, as it has done so memorably at 1095 Avenue of the Americas and at 340 Madison Avenue. That was less easily accomplished in the present case, since the upper stores are stacked in a slightly ziggurated form that is typical of the mid-century and that could not be gotten around, as much as one suspects that Moed de Armas would have wished to do.
Still, Moed de Armas has done the best it could given what it had to work with, and one suspects that the original architects could scarcely have imagined that their efforts would ever look this good.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.