A drab addition to Eighth Avenue

Boston Properties’ new Midtown office tower, designed by SOM, lacks elegance
By James Gardner | June 01, 2012 04:30PM

Though now topped out and half-clad, 250 West 55th Street will surely look better when it is completed sometime next year, but not by much. The office tower, designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill for Boston Properties, will look better for the simple reason that any finished structure, free of dust and exposed concrete, looks better than it did when it was a hard-hat zone.

That, unfortunately, is the best that can be said for the new building, which is Midtown’s first new office building in three years and which will count law firm Morrison Foerster as a tenant. (Last year Morrison Foerster signed on for about 20 percent of the building’s space, while Microsoft and law firms Chadbourne & Parke and Kaye Scholer have been eyeing the building, according to reports.)

The design of the tower is doubly unfortunate because SOM has improved considerably in the past decade over the banal contextualism of its Bear Stearns building, and the banal rationalism of some of the post-war structures for which the firm is best known. Both 7 World Trade Center and 1 World Trade Center attest to this greater sensitivity and design skill.

But 250 West 55th Street, clad in semi-reflective, low-iron vision glass, feels like a regression. Rising to 550 feet and containing 680,000 square feet over 40 floors, the building feels like the sort of boring and rationalist structure that SOM was making in the mid-seventies, when the edge of Gordon Bunshaft, the lead architect of the firm, started to go soft, and before David Childs, the incumbent, had begun to find his way. It rises as an uninflected tower on a base, its only nod to design being the flanges or fins that run up the sides, a device that the firm for some reason seems to favor. They used it at 300 Madison Avenue to similarly irrelevant effect. Otherwise it is a drably square tower with none of the elegance and sensitivity that are evident in 7 World Trade Center.

It is almost as though the architects thought that, this being Eighth Avenue, no one would notice or care. What is certainly true is that this area—hardly one of the loveliest in Manhattan—is no better for this new arrival.