Edward Larabee Barnes is one of the most prolific mid-century architects no one knows about. Barnes never achieved the status of contemporaries like Eero Saarinen or I.M. Pei, yet he was still a prolific builder in the modernist style, most famous in New York for his former IBM headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue from 1984. The building is an assemblage of hard geometric forms with a cutaway base that creates an at once imposing yet inviting presence on Madison, like the opening of a cave that demands exploring.
Just two blocks south and two years earlier, Barnes built 535 Madison Avenue for the Park Tower Group. The building is far more demure, comprised of green glass and aluminum bands, but
Barnes still brings his geometric playfulness to it At the building’s top, Barnes cut out a large triangular chunk while at its base, on 54th Street, a similar excision twice as large has been performed, creating a vast courtyard from which the tower overhangs eight stories above.
To keep the aging building competitive, Park Tower recently brought in architect Deborah Berke to update 535 Madison, including modernizations to the lobby and courtyard. To celebrate the transformation, the developer teamed up with Christie’s to create a sculpture garden at the foot of the tower with rotating exhibitions twice a year. Now in its third series, two appropriately geometric sculptures by Ronald Baden have been installed, called The X and Kama Sutra.
Previous collections included four sculptures by François-Xavier Lalanne and Claude Lalanne and one of Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculptures. “The sculpture garden has proved to be a popular amenity for our building tenants, tourists, art enthusiasts and passersby who stop to appreciate the space and the unique feature of the rotating artwork,” Alfred Bradshaw, executive vice president of Park Tower Group, said in an email.
Art has been a popular feature in commercial buildings for years, dating back to the Picasso at the Seagram Building and Isamo Noguchi’s work at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Along with a permanent collection in the lobby and the very sculptural character of the building itself, the Park Tower Group seems to hope that art can also be used to revitalize an aging 535 Madison, carrying its profile–and occupancy rates–on into the future.