After Securing Approvals, Lever House’s $100 Million Renovation Moves Forward

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Developers WatermanClark and Brookfield Properties are officially moving forward with the $100 million modernization of New York’s iconic Lever House, with original designers SOM in charge.

The second curtain wall tower ever built in New York, Lever House opened at 390 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in 1952, the result 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 of soap company Lever Brothers and has remained a shining example of International Style architecture since its opening, while the slender steel mullions framing large windows and prominent spandrels are a common sight in Midtown corporate towers today, the Lever House is one of the popularizers of the typology. (Just look at its neighbors for examples.)

And the Lever House was rightfully recognized as such, being designated a City Historic Landmark in 1983 and added to the National Register of Historic Places shortly after that same year. So when WatermanClark and Brookfield appeared before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in July last year with their proposed changes, the commissioners made sure to thoroughly assess the redevelopment proposal (while praising the development team for keeping SOM).

Rendering of the Lever House after the renovation, with the new grove of trees added on the third floor terrace. (Courtesy of Brookfield Properties)

In their sprawling but subtle plan to update Lever House for Class A offices, much of the debate last July stemmed from the team’s plan to add new openings to the solid black limestone wall at the place. SOM had proposed to add two new openings to add access for customers and staff, respectively, to the restaurant there, Casa Lever, through the monolithic slab. New tenant signage at plaza level and the removal of the Isamu Noguchi benches (added during the 2001 renovation) were also initiated at the time.

Today the developers announced that the modernization project is underway and due to be completed in the first quarter of 2023. Although the external appearance of the tower will not change, many less apparent interventions are still planned.

Working with preservation consultants Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, Lever House’s exterior cobblestones, 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 ‘100% outside air’ to be supplied to occupants, which has the added benefit of increased ceiling heights; none of the windows are openable, so mechanical ventilation is required. After the redesign, Lever House will target LEED Gold, WELL, Energy-Star, GRESB certification and the WiredScore Platinum digital connectivity rating system.

On the third floor, developers have tapped Los Angeles-based Marmol Radziner to design a tenants-only club that will include a conference room, restaurant and lounge, as well as 15,000 square feet of outdoor terraces at the top of the building’s long podium. Marmol Radziner will also revamp the seating arrangement in the lobby to create a more “intimate” experience according to the developers.

Cambridge-based landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand will add a birch grove in planters to both the plaza and the third-floor terraces.

“Lever House is one of our crown jewels, and we are honored to lead this emblem of modernism into the future,” said Chris Cooper, 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 renovation as the completion of its restoration. We look forward to improving its performance while respecting its rich heritage and opening it up to a new chapter.

Construction is expected to begin mid-2022.

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