By Lois Weiss
A foggy day gave way to sunshine and smiles as 425 Park Ave. was officially opened with a ribbon cutting in front of its revolving doors.
Developers David Levinson and Rob Lapidus of L+L Holding were joined by architect Lord Norman Foster, and financial partners Masashi Okada, the President & CEO Tokyu Land Corp. and Jonathan Eptein, managing partner of BentallGreenOak to cut the wide red ribbon on the 666,000 square-foot structure that rises to 887 feet.
Invited guests swarmed into the high-ceilinged silvery lobby and rode the destination dispatch elevators to the 26th double height “diagrid” amenities floor for food and a panel discussion about its development.
Levinson and Lapidus held a worldwide architecture competition to design the building. “This was a sacred site,” Levinson explained, noting the competition was one of the most “uplifting, enriching, experiences I will ever have.”
“As trustees of the city, we wanted to bring in the best minds that we could from around the globe to help us,” Lapidus said.
Among the eleven firms that participated were the late Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaus.
They chose Rogers in 2021 because of his ability to collaborate and listen to their needs. Levinson said that as they were talking, Rogers just began doodling and drawing. Even while discussing the fragility of the silvery balls of Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Gardens, Rogers began drawing a design for a wood rail that could be installed on the ground to keep people from knocking them off their precarious perches, as someone had done the day before. A wire had been installed but he noted it was more of a trip hazard that could sent someone flying into many of the balls.
In the beginning, L+L had a vision that sought not just to build a LEED office building but to move further and focus on the wellness of those using the building. Thus, there are yoga studios and meditation rooms as used by tech company leaders as well as much more light and fresh air than other area buildings.
“We saw a shift starting to happen where instead of the head of real estate going out to tour the building but it was actually the head of HR,” said Jonathan Epstein of BentallGreenOak of the market just before the pandemic. Later he added, “We wound up with a building that will stand for generations — that is an iconic building.”
Citadel leased 415,000 square feet and other companies followed. For now, only a few floors are left at rents in the triple digits. Views go up to Central Park and down Park Avenue to One Vanderbilt.
Lord Foster said, “I think we’ve achieved here something that contributes to Park Avenue as a New York thoroughfare…with a very strong identity…that I’d like to think at the same time, it is respectful of its place but has a very strong personality.”
The building was designed prior to the East Midtown Rezoning and had been overbuilt for the then-allowed zoning. This meant, if it was demolished, it would have had to be smaller. Instead, the developers were forced to retain 25% of the former structure. But removing every other floor and then creating the angled diagrid floors took its toll on the construction – setting its opening back many years.
“We’ve satisfied the rules but it’s not been compromised.” Lord Foster told me. “I’ve been at it with them for 18 years…And I always knew that they could pull it off but you know, you can’t help when the city is stupid. It’s a very New York story.”