SUMMIT One Vanderbilt New York City; SUMMIT One Vanderbilt New York City;

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, New York, NY

Creating an unparalleled immersive observatory experience 1,000 feet above ground in New York City

New York City has seen a successive launch of stunning tower-top observatories over the years, beginning with the Empire State Building—each featuring eye-popping views from different locations throughout Manhattan. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, located in East Midtown’s newest 1,401-foot-tall office tower One Vanderbilt, is an observatory sui generis; however, it showcases an artist-led immersive experience that melds lighting, mirrors, sound, and technology with the tower’s soaring vistas for an illusion as if one is floating above the city. 

Determined to create a truly memorable destination at the crown of One Vanderbilt, SL Green engaged the artist Kenzo Digital to work with Snøhetta and Arup in realizing the artist’s concept of an ethereal interior space infused with the skyline outside. In a highly collaborative process with the artist, Snøhetta designed the interior spaces and Arup provided the technical expertise to achieve this vision. The result is a sequence of experiences spanning four floors, beginning below ground and rising to floors 91 through 93, each with a distinct concept activated by lighting, sound, and visual effects.

From the very first elevator ride to the actual observatory, Arup designed various lighting experiences. The elevator to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt first opens onto the “Hall of Light,” a curved corridor resembling the effect of “walking into the sky.” Visitors then enter “Transcendence,” a double-height fully-mirrored room with infinite reflections of the cityscape, which may be experienced on two levels. This is followed by “Reflect,” an art exhibit space and “Affinity,” a mirrored room with floating reflective spheres. Up above, fully transparent sky boxes entitled “Levitation” jut out of the building, suspending guests 1,000 feet high with a glass floor view. Separately, a mirrored room experience, “Unity,” touts a full video wall screen displaying art.

Arup’s multidisciplinary team of designers and subject matter experts was key to exploring the feasibility of artistic concepts utilizing mirrors, and concepts in lighting and visualization as the artistic ideas were being shaped. Research- and evidence-based design and analysis underpinned the team’s creative and artistic investigations for this unprecedented project. We applied our engineering expertise to ensure also the technology delivered. In addition to testing out potential technical solutions, the team analyzed the human factors of the experience, such as visual comfort within the highly reflective mirrored spaces as well as for code compliance.
With direct underground access to Grand Central Terminal, One Vanderbilt achieved both LEED and WELL Platinum certifications. The Arup team also delivered smart building advisory services for the tower.

Project Summary

65,000ft2 immersive experience

1,000ftabove street level


Artistic collaboration

For this novel artist installation envisioned by Kenzo Digital with many unknowns, Arup was able to draw on its broad expertise, from collaborating with other international artists such as Janet Echelman, working on large scale dynamic media facades including The Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi and lighting for international museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, and become a key collaborative sounding-board with the artist as the visions for the different spaces evolved. The team took a 24-hour conceptual approach that considered the space in its entirety—for day and night with different parameters for both. This included working with Snøhetta to adjust wall locations and spatial orientation, in addition to fine-tuning the lighting. The Arup team also worked closely with the building owner SL Green regarding the development of artistic concepts and their implications on the tower. 

Research-led, evidence-based design 

The project required testing and analysis of potential solutions to balance the technically feasible with its performative effect and human impact. Arup’s research-led and evidence-based design expertise informed the design for visual and physical comfort, visitor acclimation, and code compliance. The team analyzed potential glare and heat concentration from the multiple interior sun reflections, as well as validated critical factors such as exit sign legibility. In addition to utilizing existing medical grade research, the team created a proof-of-concept mock-up to test the digital lighting systems for the infinity space in the “Affinity” section. 


Customized digital lighting design

As visitors enter the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience in the lower-level lobby, there is dynamic lighting that sets the stage for ascent to the observatory. This lighting is sequenced with the soundscape and continues as people ride up the elevator more than 1,000 feet in the air. 

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt ’s unique experience incorporates a fully-mirrored interior space at over 1,000 feet high that uses concealed and programmable RGBW Lighting embedded inside the architecture. This activates the mirrored space with interior digital dynamic lighting combined with a custom soundscape to create an experience that also complements the building’s top exterior lighting. Within “Transcendence,” the use of highly programmable digital lighting behind customized optical two-way mirrors in the four central columns generates a variety of detailed graphics effects. The effects of waves, gradients, shimmers, and shapes make full use of the night-time negative space created by the reflecting cityscape. 

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the result of an incredibly collaborative innovation process with Kenzo Digital, Snøhetta, and SL Green to test the feasibility and explore the effects of the artistic ideas. Our multidisciplinary team, with expertise in lighting, daylighting, code analysis, human factors and visualization, worked creatively and with a performance-driven focus to realize the artistic vision. ”

Brian Stacy Brian Stacy Global and Americas Lighting Skills Leader