A New Observatory Suspended Nearly 1,300 Feet in the Air Is Redefining New York City’s Skyline

Manhattan is one of those places that’s easily identifiable by its iconic and, until recently, relatively unchanging skyline. However, the collection of soaring concrete and glass peaks recently grew by one mixed-use tower: One Vanderbilt, which stands at 1,401 feet tall—just 53 shy of the Empire State Building. And One Vanderbilt’s top three floors make up the highly anticipated SL Green Realty Corp.–produced Summit One Vanderbilt, a multisensory experience that will certainly leave a few jaws on the floor. Though the skyscraper boasts a few dining concepts—including the Danny Meyer–led Après—the Snøhetta-designed Summit’s pièce de résistance is the observation deck. Here, 93 stories up, the observation is the final stop on visitors’ exploration throughout the highly immersive experience in Midtown. This observatory, however, is like no other. This one dares visitors to look in all directions rather than just outward.

Kenzo Digital’s art installation, dubbed “Transcendence,” consists of two floors—one overlooking the other—though it’s hard to discern which is which because the mirrors create a sort of optical illusion.Photo: Summit One Vanderbilt

The innovative creative at Kenzo Digital looked to such groundbreaking luminaries as Yayoi Kusama when designing the very high up installations, one of which, called Transcendence, he clad in a collection of mirrors that morph the surrounding city into a surreal funhouse-like landscape. Though it sounds like it would be an overwhelming experience, the artist designed it to encourage a sense of calm. Anne-Rachel Schiffmann, director of interiors and senior architect at Snøhetta, explains: “There are spaces at Summit where you are fully immersed in the city in all its energetic glory, and then you turn a corner and find a little moment of respite, a place where you can catch your breath and have a thought to yourself.” 

The observatory is meant to connect visitors to the urban landscape around them. Schiffmann notes: “In the observatory, you toggle between subtle and exciting spaces in a way that can be quite meditative. There are wooden benches, stone tables, and an outdoor garden with a bar, all details that use design to enrich the experience of looking over the city.” Of course, that sense of serenity was more or less the point of the observatory. 

That said, the magic doesn’t only happen above ground: In fact, it begins on the entry level. “We created a poetic journey that starts underground, gently moving you up, and culminates above the clouds,” Schiffmann suggests. The entry level, which is connected to one of New York’s most beloved landmarks, Grand Central, includes a wood-paneled theater where people can get a sneak preview of what awaits them above. 

On the top floor of Summit One Vanderbilt, the observatory offers an unparalleled view of the city beneath it.Photo: SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Another almost euphoric experience comes in the form of glass elevators (with matching glass floors) that zoom up the exterior of the tallest vantage point at Summit, offering everyone with an affinity for flight a sensation like no other, as they travel upwards for more than 1,000 feet.

Manhattan may not exactly be suffering from a shortage of enormously tall buildings that contribute to making this particular borough amongst the greatest cities in the world, but Summit One Vanderbilt isn’t like other skyscrapers. It’s unique in a way that only genuinely cutting-edge innovation and artistic collaboration can explain, and it’s about to make some serious noise—not just in New York, but across the globe—when it officially opens its heavy glass doors on October 21. “For me, all these qualities come together to create a new vantage point for New Yorkers,” Schiffmann admits. 

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