Sneak Peek: Fabricating the Feature Staircase at 50 Hudson Yards

Written by Bill Millard

The Related Companies’ Hudson Yards development is rapidly evolving from a tourist district to a working neighborhood. Although The Vessel (see Metals in Construction‘s earlier coverage here) and the shopping mall attracted eyeballs when the eastern segment of the Yards opened in 2019, in the long run the new district is likely to contribute more to New York’s quality of life through its commercial and residential components. Foster and Partners’ 50 Hudson Yards, the 1,011-foot, 58-story tower at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 33rd Street, adds 2.9 million square feet of office space to the city’s economy and a distinctive tripartite stepped-back rectangular form to the West Side’s profile. Topping out last February and scheduled to open in early 2022, 50 Hudson Yards will be the city’s fourth largest office building (measured by square footage) and will complete the first phase of the Yards.

With Facebook and asset-management firm BlackRock reported to be among its major corporate tenants, 50 Hudson Yards will offer visitors a first impression that is both dignified and dazzling. A key component is the lobby, exposed to outside observers through double-height glazing, with an array of artworks including sculptures by Frank Stella and a master staircase that is a sculpture in its own right. Sweeping upward and left in a gravity-defying curve to join the bronze-paneled mezzanine, the stairs combine the properties of multiple metals—structural carbon steel, aluminum trims, and a bronze patina—in a form that suggests both motion and strength. 

The 40-ton staircase was designed in Italy and fabricated by Cimolai, shipped in pieces, and assembled onsite by a crew of expert ironworkers from Local 580 working for installation contractor Monumental, Inc. Local 580 Shop Steward John Dougherty, notes that Cimolai expects the staircase and other features to be “museum-quality,” with tolerances “holding us to not even a millimeter…. This lobby’s going to be a jewelry box.” Crediting foreman Jozef Siemion with managing the staircase project from its inception, Dougherty speaks enthusiastically of the precision of the unitized design and the no-nonsense procedures followed at the site. “We had guys attach metal plates to the stone so metal contractors could do the entire operation,” he says, streamlining operations within a single trade following a single set of work rules. Except for the sprinklers and electrical system, all workers involved are Local 580 members. Completion of the staircase is scheduled for the end of September 2021.

An observer can read the staircase visually as a toppled stack of wafers or coins, organized into four segments, divided by three floating platforms as the rounded stairs rise and turn. The platforms are functional, allowing impromptu social gatherings or meetings and capable of supporting at least 30 people simultaneously, Siemion reports, with all three platforms occupiable at once. Stability during construction was a top priority, achieved with custom-height jack stands weighing about 3 tons, dropped in from the ceiling beams. In keeping with recent practices in active design, the staircase’s prominent position and welcoming contours encourage self-powered vertical movement rather than reliance on elevators, though an elevator core is available for those with mobility challenges, adhering to ADA requirements; the building has 94 elevators overall. Solid bronze rails and glass rail around the landings contribute to the impression of strength without excess bulk.

Guiding visitors through the site to observe monorail-based façade panel installations and other operations, Dougherty emphasizes the cohesiveness of the ironworking crews, pointing out sets of brothers, cousins, and father-son pairs among the journeymen. The atmosphere is familial yet rigorous here; the standards are high. “These guys are good ironworkers. They get it,” he says. On other crews he has seen, “some guys have to be reminded. They have in their head, ‘the company owes them.’ In my world, we owe the company, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”  

Prominent people will be moving in and out of 50 Hudson Yards. The building will feature a private porte-cochère off 33rd Street for executive valet parking; the 34th Street/Hudson Yards station on the 7 line is also readily accessible. With blast-proof glass throughout the building to protect tenants against all imaginable contingencies, 50 Hudson Yards offers high security, while its floor-to-ceiling glazing and broad floor plates (able to host over 500 employees per floor) open its working environment to the world. The building strikes a balance between contrasting values on multiple fronts; its impressively cantilevered staircase provides an effective symbol of its implicit equipoise.