The second curtain wall tower ever built in New York City, Lever House opened at 390 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in 1952, the product of a design collaboration between SOM partner Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois. The 21-story, 260,000-square-foot building was purpose-built as the headquarters for Lever Brothers soap company and has remained a shining example of early International Style architecture since its opening—while slender steel mullions framing ample windows and prominent spandrels are a common sight across corporate Midtown towers today, the Lever House is one of the typology’s popularizers. (One only has to look to its neighbors for examples.)
And the Lever House has rightfully been recognized as such, being designated a city landmark in 1983 and added to the National Register of Historic Places shortly after in that same year. So, when WatermanClark and Brookfield went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in July of last year with their proposed changes, commissioners made sure to thoroughly evaluate the redevelopment proposal (while lauding the development team for retaining SOM).
In their sprawling, but subtle plan to update Lever House for Class A office space, much of the debate last July stemmed from the team’s plan to add new openings to the solid black limestone wall at the plaza level. SOM had proposed adding two new openings to add patron and staff access, respectively, to the restaurant there, Casa Lever, through the monolithic slab. New tenant signage at the plaza-level and removing the Isamu Noguchi benches (added during the 2001 renovation) was also floated at the time.
Today, the developers announced that the modernization project was on and scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2023. While the tower’s exterior appearance won’t change, there is still a slew of less apparent interventions planned.
Together with preservation consultants Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, Lever House’s exterior pavers, stainless steel columns, marble planter, and plaster ceilings will be restored. Engineering firm Cosentini Associates will totally overhaul the tower’s HVAC system to allow for “100 percent outside air” to be delivered to occupants, which has the added benefit of raising the ceiling heights; none of the windows are operable so mechanical ventilation is needed. After the overhaul, Lever House will target LEED Gold certification, WELL, Energy-Star, GRESB, and digital connectivity rating scheme WiredScore Platinum.
On the third floor, the developers have tapped Los Angeles-based firm Marmol Radziner to design a tenant-only club that will feature a conference hall, restaurant, and lounge, as well as 15,000 square feet of outdoor terraces atop the building’s lengthy podium. Marmol Radziner will also rearrange the lobby seating arrangement to create a more “intimate” experience according to the developers.
Cambridge-based landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand will add a grove of birch trees in planters to both the plaza and third-floor terraces.
“Lever House is one of our crown jewels, and we are honored to steward this emblem of Modernism into the future,” said Chris Cooper, a design partner at SOM, in the announcement. “Our team revisited the site 20 years ago to carefully replace the building’s curtain wall, and we view this next phase of retrofitting as the completion of its restoration. We look forward to enhancing its performance while respecting its rich heritage and ushering it into a new chapter.”
Construction is expected to begin in mid-2022.