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SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Affinity, a chapter of AIR.

Inside SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, a truly transformational experience

We explore the latest high-rise experience to open in NYC, which is more than just an observation deck

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, owned by SL Green and comprising three levels of mind-bending multi-sensory immersive experiences, is New York’s most transformational new experience.

A fusion of cutting-edge technology with natural elements from the ground floor to the Summit, the project is a standalone masterpiece of architecture, design, and technology, created for visitors to and residents of New York City.

Paying homage to the Grand Central Station and the surrounding historical environment, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt stands as a testament to the innovation and transformation from past to present with the future in mind.

The Summit is changing the way people experience New York City. Electrosonic, a global leader in innovative audio-visual technology solutions, was a key player in realising this vision.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is a one-of-a-kind experience

Electrosonic’s Brandon Harp, senior experiential technology consultant, and Alexander Hann, marketing communications manager, spoke to blooloop, alongside Nastassia Welter of SL Green. Together, they gave an insight into their collaboration, and what the one-of-a-kind observation-deck experience in Midtown Manhattan means for not just the city, but also for the 21st-century workplace.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt from Above, Grand Opening
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt from above

Responsible for project management, engineering, AV installations, support, and operations, Electrosonic also provided its AFFINITY Service with a full-time on-site technician responsible for preventative maintenance and break-fix.

An immersive, multi-sensory observation deck experience, the project is created around AIR, Kenzo Digital’s immersive art concept in five parts. This comprises transparency, space, and reflective surfaces, with technology adding a new dimension to stunning cityscapes.

Gathering inspiration

Brandon Harp tells blooloop:

Brandon Harp Electrosonic
Brandon Harp

“The idea came about six or seven years ago. Interestingly, Electrosonic had taken SL Green to go see One World Observatory, to give them some inspiration for what they were looking to do, which was very blue sky at the time. They didn’t know what they wanted, other than that they wanted an observation deck. We had told them of another project that we had done in lower Manhattan for One World Observatory. This started to spur some thinking.

“If we then fast forward a few years, the project went through a couple of different AV designers, and then finally got to the point where they thought they were ready to build something in about October 2020.

“That is when Electrosonic was hired as the AV systems integrator. There was a lot of designing and changing and upgrading of things on the fly as we went. In the end, the overall job and the effort that was required was significantly more than was originally planned. But we made it work, and we certainly did a good job, and everybody was happy. It’s a beautiful building with an amazing experience at the top.”

The evolution of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Harp then goes on to outline the process, as well as the growth and evolution of the project.

“We were working with JB&B, the AV designers on the project. We had some conversations about the project, after which they came to us. They were aware that we have a specialised unique skillset around immersive and experiential technology. So, they got us involved in the RFP process. I think it was evident to them as well as to the other stakeholders early on that we really do have a good grasp on those types of technologies, and what it was going to take to be able to fit this space out the way that it was intended.”

Summit_One

Electrosonic was hired in October 2020 working directly for SL Green, the owner, to provide systems integration.

“The first step in our process was to take the bill of materials that we were given and begin our detailed engineering phase. We were able to work very closely with JB&B as well as TAD (Technology, Architecture, Design), who were in an owner’s rep advisory role. We were all able to put our brains together and think about innovation, and how we could make this even better.”

For this project to succeed, collaboration was key.

Collaboration brings the vision to life

The owner, SL Green Realty Corp., NYC’s Largest Commercial Landlord, is a fully integrated REIT focused primarily on acquiring, managing, and maximising the value of Manhattan commercial properties.

Kenzo Digital was the experience and content designer.

Construction management was provided by AECOM Tishman; the Technology Advisor was Tad. The audio-visual design was supplied by Jaros, Baum and Bolles (JB&B), and audio-visual integration & support by Electrosonic. Additionally, Electrosonic provided its AFFINITY Service with a full-time on-site technician responsible for preventative maintenance and break-fix. The LED Provider was Samsung Electronics America and lighting was supplied by Barbizon.

“We had the backing of Mark Holliday, the SL Green CEO,” Harp says. “Quite a few spaces required our sort of thinking, as well as that of the other companies that we worked with, and of Kenzo Digital, the immersive designer on the project.

“Kenzo Digital had a specific vision which was explained to us in paper at the beginning, but which really emerged once we got involved with him. All these elements really transcended the work that we did into something much more, a greater beast than it was originally.”

A new draw

For Harp, the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience starts down on the sidewalk:

“You look up at this beautiful building that has changed the skyline of New York City as we know it. It has brought a newfound resurgence or energy back to that part of town. Everything that was going on, including observation decks, was all happening over in Hudson Yards. All the major corporate and financial companies and so forth were moving to the west side of town.

“The east side of town, which is where this is, on 42nd Madison right next to Grand Central Station, was forgotten about for a little while. The big corporate companies were getting up and leaving.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Transcendence in the Evening, a chapter of AIR
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Transcendence in the Evening, a chapter of AIR

SL Green has five properties in the area, within three blocks of one another. It is engaged in the resurgence of this part of town. Harp says:

“Putting up a big building like this, with this incredible observation deck at the top and housing some of the world’s leading corporate companies, is instrumental in getting people back to the east side of town. We are now seeing other, similar buildings emerging, with amenity updates. There’s a new draw to the east side.”

The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience

Talking through the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience step-by-step, he explains:

“It begins with a 180-degree immersive theatre pre-show experience. Here, a video created by SL Green engenders a euphoric feeling that you’re going to be transitioning into the clouds.”

Guests then enter the queue (framed by well-placed digital signage), and use the custom-made facial scanners and QR-enabled wrist bands to capture their faces. This content is used in a highly interactive moment later.

“We had these facial scanners custom-made through a fabrication partner of ours,” he explains. “They capture your face, used in conjunction with your QR wristband.”

‘Hall of Light’, is next, a synchronized and dramatic audio and light installation that leads to the elevators.

“The Hall of Light is really my favourite experience. There are no windows; it’s an audio and lighting experience that almost feels like you’re entering the mouth of the beast.”

Choreography

It is, he says, well-choreographed:

“The acoustics are phenomenal.”

The hall leads to an elevator Once inside, the ride to the top begins as special lighting effects and mirrors energise guests during the climb:

“The technology utilises contact closure and is all managed by the Crestron system, which integrates lighting as well the ride player. This allows for the audio-visual experience to be sequenced in such a way that it races you to the top in 16 seconds. You go 90 storeys, the lights go down, and you see these beams of light just shooting you to the clouds. It’s a neat experience.”

AIR and TRANSCENDENCE

Visitors disembark at ‘AIR’, and another choreographed lighting experience transitions them to the next space.

TRANSCENDENCE 1 is the centrepiece of ‘AIR’, a multisensory mirror room experience created by Kenzo Digital. Windows showcase the skyline, with the Empire State Building in the foreground. At night, the mirrored columns light up with a multitude of colours to create a completely unique experience to the one that guests experience during the day. This lighting works alongside the audio to create an out-of-body moment.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Affinity at Night, a chapter of AIR
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Affinity at Night, a chapter of AIR

Well-placed directional audio enhances the ambience throughout the experience.

“The beauty of that is that you’re able to glimpse these amazing views of Manhattan, New Jersey and all the boroughs. But it’s also an opportunity to reflect inward. There’s a place to lie down in the middle, and to look up and lose yourself in the mirrors, letting your mind open up, and freely engage with all that this beautiful space has to offer you.”

The experience is, he says, never the same twice:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a local, or a tourist visiting the city. I’ve been there countless times, and every time I go, there’s always a different moment, a different way of looking at something, a different feeling, or a selfie moment that finds you.”

Framestore, the visual effects specialist, was commissioned to create experiential media for AIR.

A unique experience

While it can be a therapeutic, meditative moment, he says:

“It can also be a little nerve-wracking if you’re not used to that. You’re 90 storeys above Madison Avenue, and you look out and think, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’m way up here.’

“You’re looking down at these mirrors and seeing yourself everywhere, and just drifting off into this abyss, almost. It’s a neat experience in itself.”

He adds:

“Tall, three-sided architectural glass columns, covered in two-way mirrors, reach from floor to ceiling. On the inside are LED lighting strips. After dark, they light up with changing colours that are choreographed to the audio.”

Following the TRANSCENDENCE experience, visitors enter a space where celebrated the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known for mirrored infinity rooms, has designed an interactive floor-based mirrored sculpture titled Clouds. This is designed to be viewed or photographed from different heights.

“It’s really exceptional,” Harp says. “It’s a very low-tech kind of space, meant to mellow you out, and bring you down from where you just were, but it stays with that theme.”

The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt tour continues

From there, visitors enter a room filled with floating orbs. This is a beautiful but playful gallery. The floating, silver, reflective mylar spheres are propelled through space by circulating air, in a pleasing interplay between space, light, and the backdrop of New York City.

“It’s probably one of the more Instagrammable moments,” Harp says. “It’s an opportunity for adults to let themselves go and act like kids again. That’s really the beauty of it. Again, it gives you a euphoric feeling that you’re in the clouds.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Levitation, all-glass ledges.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Levitation, all-glass ledges.

The tour then continues with an escalator ride to the next floor:

“You’re now overlooking TRANSCENDENCE, looking down through two spherical openings. The next space is LEVITATION, which is not for the faint of heart.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s LEVITATION sky boxes allow guests 1,063 feet out into space. Here, they can stand inside transparent glass boxes that give them unimpeded and unparalleled views over the city, creating the illusion that they are hovering in thin air.

Harp adds:

“Some people don’t want to step out there. I was a little wary at first. You’re standing 92 storeys above Madison Avenue, looking down at taxis, and people that look like ants.”

UNITY

UNITY is next:

“This is the space where Electrosonic really left its mark,” Harp says. “This space now has a floor-to-ceiling, 50 x 12-foot Samsung 1.2-millimetre, LED pixel pitch video wall. This is an area where the design really kind of came to life once we were on board. As part of the original bill of material, we were asked to install an LCD video wall. That would have made for a very different experience.”

In fact, he adds:

“Frankly, it wouldn’t have been as amazing as it is.”

Before entering the space, visitors scan their wristbands, and then step into the room, which is, apart from the video wall, lined with mirrors.

“Within about 30 seconds, your face then appears in the clouds on the wall. It’s a neat opportunity for you to stand with your friends, and just wait for yourself to come drifting by and take you through to the next space.”

A further escalator carries guests to the Après Summit experience, where the opportunity to enjoy a unique food and cocktail concept from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events affords guests the chance to relax and reflect on their experience.

“There is an outdoor wraparound terrace, too, with a bar and places to sit and eat, which is great, especially during the warmer months. Plus, you’re now 93 stories above the sidewalk, which is really cool.”

The final ascent

The last part of the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt trip is ASCENT:

“To me, it’s almost like a roller coaster, as it click, click, click, click, climbs the side of the building. It’s all glass, and it travels another 200 feet up, so now you’re now about 1,406 feet above Madison Avenue.”

The fact it’s all glass makes it a great place for a selfie moment. It sits there for about 30 seconds, and then it slowly travels back down. Italian company Cimolai Technology was responsible for the engineering behind the incredible feat of ASCENT.

Hann comments:

“ASCENT reminds me of the end of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie when they blast off in the glass elevator. This is literally the real-life version.”

A tight deadline

Alexander Hann Electrosonic
Alexander Hann

In terms of the timeline, Hann says:

“We were hired in October of 2020, and we had to finish by October 2021. We literally had one year to do all this work. As you can imagine, there were a lot of challenges, including the pandemic. While there was a whole number of things stacked against us, we were able to persevere. We never missed a single scheduled date, which was pretty exceptional, and a true feat of its own.”

This, he points out, is why Electrosonic is hired to do projects like this:

“It’s about our innovation i’s about our people, it’s about our ability to project manage and deliver on engineering. It’s our desire to do these kinds of projects and do them at a high level.

“The work and the effort that was put in and the outcome that we were able to achieve really has left its mark. It has put Electrosonic even further on the map when it comes to these kinds of observation decks.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt builds on the firm’s success

This is the first observation deck that Electrosonic has done in New York since One World Observatory. This one is, Hann points out, effectively a flagship for Midtown Manhattan and the resurgence of people and companies moving back into that part of town.

“It’s a privilege to be invited to work on these iconic properties. This is another one that is cemented in history forever; it has changed the New York skyline permanently. We are thrilled and happy to have been a part of it.

“In terms of the equipment, we have 233 speakers throughout the experience, 14 subwoofers, 11 LG displays, 5 planar displays, 1 50 x 12 ft Samsung LED video wall, 4 audio controllers and 14 video wall controllers managed centrally by Crestron devices.”

Harp adds:

“There are quite a few speakers, and the audio must be triggered with the lighting, in most cases; it’s all controlled by the Crestron system. There were a lot of gruelling hours of programming. We had to make sure that sequencing and things were happening all at once.

“The stuff that we’re good at, the video walls and the digital communication, and so forth, was well placed, and well thought through. We made sure that every detail of the system, how it was designed and architected, all came together. No one else, I believe, could have pulled off what we did.”

A love letter to the city

Nastassia Welter SL Green
Nastassia Welter

Nastassia Welter, VP of sales at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, explains that, from the perspective of the owners, SL Green, the experience is a gift. It is a love letter to the city and its people:

“SUMMIT One was created to be a gift back to the city that has given our company everything that we have. Since way before the pandemic, the aim was always to celebrate the local community. The idea has always been to let New Yorkers, as well as tourists, fall in love once again with their beloved city.”

It is, she says, so much more than an observation deck.

“We are adjacent to Grand Central, we are by Midtown East. We are in the heart of the city, so there are phenomenal views. However, that’s not what we try to sell in terms of the experience. At the end of the day, here in the city, we have other observation decks. That includes the iconic Empire State Building, which has just celebrated its 92nd anniversary.

“We didn’t want to frame the experience as an observation deck. We want our guests to take photos inside the experience, rather than focusing on the views.

“Summit is an immersive multisensory experience with great views of the city.”

Instagrammable & repeatable

It is extremely Instagrammable, and it’s repeatable.

“We see a plural visitation,” she says:

“People visit and then return because we have so many different things to do as well. We have a beautiful Après, our outdoor terrace. We have sunrise events and sunset events.”

SUMMIT One offers, she contends, a unique viewpoint:

“We want you to have a different perspective in terms of architecture, nature, and city. We want you to be immersed and we want you to be part of our experience.”

Unity, one of the rooms created by Kenzo Digital was originally called ‘Leave A Mark’.

“The idea is that every time we go to a new destination or every time we visit a place, we tend to bring something back with us. For instance, a photo, a souvenir, a memory. Here, the idea is that you are leaving something; you’re leaving your mark on the city. We want you to be part of the experience. We want you to feel part of the pulsing city that we have. You’re just not a number or a visitor. You are part of it.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is a transformational experience

SUMMIT One is, she concludes, a truly transformative experience:

“When the visitors leave Summit, we want them to say, ‘Wow, this was incredible. I had fun. It wasn’t just going on an elevator ride to a tall building; I feel I’ve been part of something.’ We keep hearing this over and over.

“The other day, I took a guest up there. She happens to live in New York, though she’s not from New York. She said, ‘For the first time, I feel fulfilled from having visited an experience. I feel you have everything from beginning to end.’

“And that is the idea of the project: you leave feeling a little changed by it.”

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Lalla Merlin

Lead Features Writer Lalla studied English at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University. A writer and film-maker, she lives in rural Devon with husband, children, and an assortment of badly-behaved animals, including an enormous but friendly wolf.

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