SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Transcendence, a chapter of AIR

The Designer Who Created a Kaleidoscopic Nest in the Sky

For his three-floor permanent installation at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, designer Kenzo Digital and his studio created a space that reflects and refracts the many moods of NYC.

Few skylines are as iconic as New York City’s. From its cloud-grazing perch above Midtown Manhattan, the permanent design installation Air at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt offers a true bird’s eye view. Sculpted into the top three Snøhetta-designed floors of the 93-story, 1,401-foot-tall tower that looms above Grand Central Terminal, SUMMIT is composed of a series of interconnecting, built-in infinity rooms and exhibition spaces crafted by artist Kenzo Digital and his studio.

I wanted to make a physical space that was capable of having a deep, emotional, and psychological relationship with a human being.

Kenzo Digital

This immersive art experience begins at a basement-level tunnel entrance, accessible through Grand Central. Mirrored elevators transport visitors to the 91st floor, with doors opening to reveal an illuminated dayglow antechamber that heralds Air, the crown jewel of SUMMIT. Air‘s main space, Transcendence, connects the two main floors with a “chamber of light and glass” composed of 25,000-square-feet of mirrors, naturally lit by full-length windows and placed to refract light from the city. A glass balcony wraps a mirrored entryway and connects the spaces to the outside world, offering singular views of sites like the Chrysler Building and Bryant Park. The product of two years of design and installation, Air‘s mirrored floors are built upon a structural aluminum frame, raised above concrete slabs, and crafted from German-designed annealed glass that is secured by a structural honeycomb laminated to the underside. Each reflective surface is built to accommodate the daily shifting of heat and light.

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

“The idea of Air is that it’s a living organism,” Kenzo told Metropolis during a December tour, noting the installations’ responsiveness to the elements, “I wanted to make a physical space that was capable of having a deep, emotional, and psychological relationship with a human being.” Walking through this “structureless environment,” Transcendence flows into Affinity, another mirrored room adorned with free-floating silver Mylar orb balloons, an homage to Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds and the work of Yayoi Kusama, whose floor-based reflective installation Clouds occupies one of the smaller, successive rooms.

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The denouement of Air is Unity, a massive, pulsing 47-foot-wide upright LED video screen reminiscent of a technicolor storm cloud, a nod to seminal video artist Nam June Paik, Kenzo’s great uncle. The floor is skirted by Levitation, an enclosed glass ledge designed by Snøhetta that gives the feeling of weightlessly floating above the city, and Ascent, a glass elevator leading to One Vanderbilt’s peak. Snøhetta also crafted the interiors in the areas of Summit outside of Air, as well as a small gallery space and the 93rd-floor terrace.  

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Affinity at Night, a chapter of AIR

SUMMIT’s overall design was guided by Kenzo’s recurring childhood dream of waking up in a mysterious, mirrored two-floor space at the top of a glittering penthouse. But SUMMIT’s ethos was grounded in energy conservation. “I wanted to create something that, hypothetically, didn’t require electricity—day or night—and had to rely on the reflection of the sun and ambient light of the city.” Kenzo’s vision is enhanced by a sound bath crafted by Sound Designer Joseph Fraioli (Tenet).

“As New Yorkers, we are disconnected from nature, and our sense of time is chaotic and pressurized. As a result, you often don’t appreciate how nature factors into the city and how you are part of the larger story. In many ways, I think of this as an escape from the rivers of chaos below,” says Kenzo, who spent much of lockdown installing. “I built Air to provide a universal feeling–you begin to see the city work as an organism, an extension of nature.” A chance to view both the metropolis and yourself differently, he explains. “We’re connecting you to the outside world, but equally, it’s about connecting the outside world to you.”

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt from Above, Grand Opening.

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