Eighty years practically to the day since its debut on October 3, 1934 as the world’s highest restaurant, New York’s fabled Rainbow Room atop Raymond Hood et al’s Art Deco 30 Rock masterpiece re- opened its preview doors to the Sir John Soanes Museum Foundation.
Honorees Phyllis Lambert and David Adjaye shared the stage with like-minded presenters, whose collective dedication to the Soane design legacy resonated well in this interior landmark now renewed and reconceived by Gabellini Sheppard to the fullest extent such rare designation allows. Of New York’s 31,000 landmark properties, just 115 are inside, meaning while function might shift, form or surviving ornament must remain in tact.
Known best of late for its portfolio of cool, coruscating restaurants and retail spaces across styles yet united by clean line, sharp reveals, and reveal linings, and even light levels, Gabellini Sheppard emerges here as an ideal reinterpreter of the entire 65th floor, as last undertaken by Hugh Hardy then of HHP in 1985. A full rethinking of use and flow throughout leads finally to the pièce de résistance ballroom with its southern, eastern, and northern views summoning up the jazzy resilience from the depth of Depression. In a couple years, it will offer the best imaginable perspective of the West 57th Street parade of luxurious residential needles. Go soon and compare later.
The firm’s attention to light and an ideal design accommodation of its shifts draws both from new technologies as well as the more tried and true methods like dangling crystals and a cool narrow palette of metallic hues. Today, the Rainbow Room need never stand in the wings awaiting a nighttime show of staged illumination. Daylight now heralds a distinct experience of equal draw and separates mere nostalgia from a refined, of-its-time lilac and silver synthesis 24/7 as called for today. For many it may even top the night, but then of course the innate glamor discretely reawakened by the design firm envelopes one and all as they glide down into the sunken well of the dance floor — martini in hand — whether coming for the first time or the 10th.
Only with such tech interventions could the preservation effort compete. Likewise, a code- accommodating glass wall just inside the Art Deco copper balustrades conceived by Hood et al means that after decades off-limits, the balcony areas along the southern and western tower facades are open anew. Now, once again, this is a rhapsodic and thrillingly vertiginous aerie without equal in New York; this is the closest it comes to the Jules Verne atop the Eiffel Tower.
While so much of Manhattan undergoes rapid and largely super-sized change, there is the comfort of a landmark interior so potent that it accommodates such change as here shown.