HomeCommunityMet Life Building: How it Changed MidTown Architecture

Met Life Building: How it Changed MidTown Architecture

Located at Park Avenue and 45th Street, the MetLife Building is one of the “100 Tallest Buildings in the United States.” It towers above the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood, north of Grand Central Terminal. The MetLife Building is 59 stories high and 808 feet tall-a true sight to behold. 

The MetLife Building was designed by Pietro Belluschi, Walter Gropius and Richard Roth in 1963. These gentlemen created the building in the International Style-very similar to modern architecture found around the world today.

The MetLife Building was the last building to be built before NYC changed some of its rules concerning skyscrapers. After the construction of the MetLife Building, no other skyscrapers could place their logos atop their crown. At its completion, this structure was the largest office building in the world. Just a few years later, though, the building would lose that title. 

On March 7th, 1963, the Pan Am Building officially opened its doors. They used at least 15 floors of the tower and remained there for many years. Eventually, Pan Am moved their main office to Miami, Florida and eventually stopped operating.

Pan Am sold the building to MetLife for $400 million in 1981. The Pan Am sign remained on the building for another decade before being replaced with a MetLife sign. The structure is estimated to be worth over 3 billion today-a far cry from the estimated $100 million it cost to initially construct it. 

A plaque on Park Ave of the Metlife Building

The ownership of the tower has been quite a mystery throughout its years in operation. We now know who owns the building but it wasn’t always so clear to the public. Today, billionaire Donald Bren owns 97.3% of the MetLife Building with less than 3% ownership of the building, Tishman Speyer is the managing partner. 

In the 1960’s, there was a frequently used helipad atop the Pan Am building. For years, people were flown from the airport to the Pan Am building, creating a constant flurry of action above Midtown. The helipad was used until 1977, when a deadly crash occurred involving a helicopter and its landing gear. Many people lost their lives that day.

The towering structure has been in more movies and television shows than some actors ever will be. Just a few of the highly recognizable ones include Catch Me if You Can, Armageddon, Godzilla, Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Knowing. The building also starred in the Pan Am television show, where it showed off its original Pan Am signage.

The MetLife Building has influenced the areas and buildings nearby. Architect Der Scutt used the buildings’ stepped plan to influence parts of Trump Tower. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architect David Childs used features of the building to create large vertical illuminations on the Time Warner Center. 

The towering structure is as controversial as it is tall. Since its initial construction, The MetLife Building has faced harsh criticism from many prominent people including Jackie Onassis. Many people see the huge monolithic building as an eyesore. Some believe that it has ruined the landscape of Midtown and have referred to it as “vista blocking”.

Even after a lobby revision in the 1980’s, several people still criticized the building. The lobby was enveloped in an Egyptian motif. Carter Wiseman compared the glitzy glamor to Liberace but “even Liberace would have blushed at the vulgarity”. New York Times author Paul Goldberger described it as “a space that is so forced in its joy, so false and so disingenuous, that they make one yearn for some good old-fashioned coldness”.

In 2002, the lobby was redesigned again. Its gaudy design was removed and now displays a more modern feel.

2019 was the beginning of another transformation of the MetLife Building. This transformation has been referred to as “part restoration, part reinvigoration”. The redesign will be “improved and reimagined two-level 50,000 square-foot lobby will become a welcoming, intuitive and inspiring destination for all who work and visit”. The MetLife Building aims to give all guests a world-class experience and they are improving their sustainability initiatives as well. 

No matter your opinion on its size or extravagance, there is no doubt that the MetLife Building is impressive. It is a huge achievement in terms of skyscrapers and has been influential to the NYC skyline. Some are vocal about its glaring size and change to the landscape, while others have embraced its inevitable change.

Kristi Hill is a freelance writer who loves to travel, cook and watch college football. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually listening to classic rock and spending time with her dog, Chico.

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