The Making of: 55 Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards has transformed what was previously a vast, desolate railyard on Manhattan’s far west side into a dynamic neighborhood characterized by modernity, sustainability, art, and culture.

Located on the northernmost edge of the site, 55 Hudson Yards presents an understated massing and expressive façade, synthesizing Manhattan’s sleek, contemporary architecture with the industrial roots of the neighboring West Chelsea and Meatpacking District. Unlike many new office towers clad in glass, 55 Hudson Yards comes to life through its modulated scale, crafted façade, and natural materials that speak to its formerly industrial context and the spirit of fabrication.

A logical progression of scale – from tower to podium to street level – leads tenants into the lobby of 55 Hudson Yards, where the building’s tactile materials – stone, wood, and glass – maintain a simple palette of greys and blacks highlighted by wood tones and moments of color.

The building’s scale carries tenants into the lobby.
The rugged yet refined granite complements the building’s facade characteristics. Images courtesy of Connie Zhou.

The lobby walls are clad in Jet Mist® granite with a split face finish. Depending on the technique used to quarry stone, the slabs separate at a weak seam, revealing a rough, typically undesirable appearance. Usually, this surface is cut away and discarded in favor of a fresh clean cut.

In this case, however, the design team favored the split face for its natural range in texture, veining, and coloration and selected it for 55 Hudson Yards.

Four visits to the quarry in Virginia were required to select the appropriate Jet Mist® slabs which were then cleaned with a power wash, milled, and polished. Several dry lays were taken from 2016 to 2018 to approve sections of the stone wall slabs. These inspections were crucial to ensuring that the color, texture, and veining fell within an acceptable tolerance.

KPF architects select the stone walls slabs at the quarry in Virginia. Images courtesy of Jaclyn Jung.

Once the panels were inspected for uniformity, each selected panel was cut to the appropriate size: approximately 7’ wide and 4’ tall. The split face stone was then measured to ensure that the variations on the front face of the panel were within 4” – 6.5” from the leveled back face of the panel to maintain a reasonable thickness and a slightly varied, yet consistent, visible texture. After fabrication, the panels were transported to the project site for installation.

Jet Mist® granite panels of the 55 Hudson Yards lobby. Images courtesy of Jaclyn Jung.

Through a series of mock ups, the design team studied the geometry of the walls, the potential and the limitations of the stone, and construction and finishing methods. This process informed design decisions and ultimately allowed the natural stone to drive the final lobby design. Jet Mist® granite’s versatility is exhibited throughout the lobby: the walls of the East Lobby, East Anteroom, and the West Lobby are dominated by split face granite panels, all soffits and thresholds of the large entrances are polished to a highly reflective dark finish, and the elevator lobby is polished with a smooth thermal finish.

The elevator lobby of 55 Hudson Yards. Image courtesy of Connie Zhou.

In all, 1,160 Jet Mist® granite panels, each weighing approximately 1,600 pounds, were lifted into place mechanically, using a hand-operated pulley system, and mounted on steel brackets that are bolted to vertical beams. The resulting wall panels are impressive in scale and texture, yet simple in composition.

Construction workers use a pulley system to lift granite panels into place. Image courtesy of Jaclyn Jung.
Polished accents create a level of refinement within the lobby, and contrast with the rough stone walls to mark transitions within the space. Image courtesy of Connie Zhou.

The floor pavers were chosen specifically for their silver coloration, which contrasts the darker matte walls. Approximately 500 Silvercloud granite panels continue the modulation of the walls, as the framing joints run through the entirety of the lobby. The pavers were cut, fabricated, and given a honed finish in Quebec, Canada.

The glow of the custom sawtooth glass walls fills the interior, creating a warm and welcoming environment. Image courtesy of Connie Zhou.

Backlit onyx feature walls bring in rich color and light variation, complementing the darker greyscale lobby floor and walls. The relatively rare blue onyx, sourced from overseas, is typically pastel, but when illuminated with 6300K light, the stone reveals vivid shades of blue, purple, and yellow. The onyx panels are framed to align with the Jet Mist® panels, maintaining structural order but offering visual variation.

The cast glass similarly creates an illuminated guiding pathway through the lobby. After experimenting with different glass and lighting conditions, the team chose sawtooth glass for its slight texture variations. Exploring the scale and material limitations of the glass resulted in a 2” wide sawtooth, vertically striated over panels which measure approximately 5’ – 0” x 5’ – 0”. The cast glass is backlit with a series of linear lights and a lightbox, creating a glowing effect.

KPF partnered with Nathan Allan Glass Studios to create an exclusive glass design. Image courtesy of Connie Zhou.

This approach to materiality is institutionalized at KPF. Each project, from large office towers to low-scale residential buildings, incorporates a level of craft and detail driven to elevate the tenant experience. Always keeping a project’s big ideas in mind – in the case of 55 Hudson Yards, scale and expression – the design team leverages these material decisions to convey its essence in every level of design. To learn more about KPF’s philosophy on craft and materials, please see “Design in Detail: An Essay on Making.”

The integrated lighting in the lobby entryway emphasizes both the vibrant waves of color in the onyx and the vertical ribs in the glass panels. Image courtesy of Connie Zhou.