Eero Saarinen’s Only Tower Enters a New Era

The Finnish architect envisioned Black Rock, the Midtown office tower that long housed the corporate headquarters of CBS, as a “simple” building that deviated from the rest of his oeuvre. A new renovation with some love from Knoll is tastefully bringing the storied structure into today.

Eero Saarinen’s architecture was rarely simple—the swooping forms of his Gateway Arch and the TWA Hotel, two of his most famous buildings, were both neo-futurist gestures that captured an optimistic era of burgeoning technology. When it came to skyscrapers, though, the late Finnish architect only designed one, the CBS Building in Midtown Manhattan, and described it as the “simplest skyscraper statement in New York.” Nicknamed “Black Rock” after its angled granite facade and dark-tinted glass windows, it appears as a continuous slab, not unlike its Modernist peers the Seagram Building and the erstwhile Union Carbide Building, but still has “guts,” as he once said. “The spirit of a building should be expressed, not hidden behind a neutral curtain of glass.”

Black Rock was long the headquarters of CBS until they sold the 38-story building in 2019 and left it in the hands of Harbor Group International, which commissioned design firms Vocon and MdeAS Architects to modernize its dated interiors. Luckily, the designers benefited from Saarinen’s column-free floor plates and an abundance of natural light thanks to the structure’s rectangular doughnut-shaped layout—groundwork that enabled them to devise modern interventions that enhance Saarinen’s vision. Renovation work involved restoring bronze fin walls, creating a sparkling light installation in the lobby, and adding amenities befitting a five-star hotel like upscale dining options, a tricked-out fitness center, and a tranquil rooftop garden.

Knoll furnishings are sprinkled throughout, nodding to the bond shared by Saarinen and Florence Knoll Bassett. He designed many of Knoll’s most recognizable pieces, from the elegant Tulip Table to the enveloping Womb Chair, which helped establish the American furniture brand’s reputation during its formative years. When Saarinen died shortly after construction on Black Rock broke ground, Knoll Bassett took it upon herself to furnish the building’s entire interior, from reception areas to executive offices. It was her last corporate interiors project before she retired. Even after the renovation, the spirit of both trailblazers perseveres, and those who don’t work at Black Rock can still experience their legacy. Knoll’s New York showroom, which stocks multiple Saarinen classics, is a block away.

All photography by Colin Miller.

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