The Design, Religion & Allure of Citigroup Center

Citigroup Center

Citigroup Center - formerly called Citicorp Center - is an office building located in NYC’s Plaza District at 601 Lexington Ave between 53rd and 54th Street. The shiny skyscraper is one of the most distinctive in Manhattan with its massive 45-degree-angle sloping roof.  Designed by architect Hugh Stubbins Jr., the unique slant was initially meant to hold solar panels that would have provided a large portion of the building’s energy but the idea was scrapped when it was determined that the slope was too steep. Still, it is one of the tallest in the city and stands out from the crowd due to this inimitable feature. The sloped roof was not the only engineering challenge encountered during construction. Indeed there were a number of them, including accommodating a Lutheran church and a last-minute structure alteration that averted a potential disaster.

The former involved St. Peters church, which was demolished in order to make way for the building but with the caveat that a new church be built in its place.  One of the stipulations was that the new church could have no physical connection whatsoever to the Citigroup building, a task that was none-too-simple for the engineers.  It was overcome by setting the building on 4 massive 114 foot tall columns that, rather than at the corners of the building, were positioned at the center of each side of it.  This allowed the northwest corner to be cantilevered 75 feet above the new church, which was quite a marvel of engineering.

The latter was discovered by pure accident when, as the story goes, a Princeton University engineering student posed a question about the building's maximum wind resistance, which led the building’s engineer William LeMessurier to question the use of bolted joints, as opposed to the much stronger, welded ones. It was posed that the skyscraper would not be able to withstand 70 mph winds or higher if it was constructed as planned and, after a thorough inspection of the risk, LeMessurier privately approached Citicorp and convinced them to hire welders to secure the building’s 200 vulnerable bolted joints. Not wanting to draw attention to the design flaw, the work was done at night and was unbeknownst to the public until 1994, 20 years after the fact, when the revealing article appeared in The New Yorker.  Ironically, and to the credit of both LeMessurier and Citigroup, the building is now considered one of the most structurally sound in the entire city.

At 59 stories of sleek aluminum, Citigroup Center remains a distinctive fixture in the Midtown Manhattan skyline. The prestigious address is home to a multitude of financial institutions, as well as the law firm Kirkland & Ellis and  the “Oh, what a feeling”-automaker Toyota. You can be sure that office space in this Class ‘A’ building is leased at a premium, but there are a number of competitive subleases as well. Many current available office spaces in the building are pre-built with a mixture of glass enclosed private offices and open area. Typical office sizes range from 5,000 square feet for partial floors to 30,000 square feet for full floor space.

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