Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company at 510 Fifth Avenue created a new model for the American bank building when it was completed in 1954. One of the first examples of a glass curtain wall, the SOM-designed building stunned the public and architects alike with its transparency. Behind its transparent façade, vast luminous ceilings contributed to the effect of merging the interior and exterior, and the vault, typically hidden in a basement, was placed on full display ten feet behind the Fifth Avenue façade.
In the intervening years, the building suffered insensitive modifications with shifting ownership. The luminous ceilings were undermined by individual renovations that occurred at various times and with different materials. The transparency of the spaces was compromised by the insertion of numerous partitions, particularly at ground level, which divided the space into multiple tenancies, blocked views to the ground level from Fifth Avenue, and obscured views of the sculptural escalator. Additionally, two site-specific sculptures designed by Harry Bertoia had been removed by a vacating tenant.
From 2010 to 2012, SOM renovated 510 Fifth Avenue to adapt the building to a new use, a potential that the original client had foreseen — flexibility was requested and planned for in the design. Adaptive reuse served as a vehicle for the preservation and restoration of elements fundamental to the integrity of the design: the building’s pavilion-like proportions, transparency, luminous ceilings, vault door, marble columns, Bertoia-designed screen and mobile, and cantilevered floors. In each case, the original design intent served as a guiding principle, even when original fabric was no longer available or obsolete –– as with the luminous ceiling –– or when new systems had to be incorporated, as with a new sprinkler system. By following the original design intent, the building now serves a new purpose while once again reflecting the original architecture’s brilliance.