interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'

on september 14, 2020, new york welcomed another landmark skyscraper to its iconic skyline. designed by kohn pedersen fox (KPF), ‘one vanderbilt’ soars to a total height of 1,401 feet (427 meters) making it the second tallest completed building in the city. the office tower, which is already approximately 70% leased, stands at the corner of 42nd street and vanderbilt avenue in midtown manhattan, where it hopes to catalyze a regeneration of the area surrounding grand central terminal.


to learn more about the project’s design, and how it relates to its urban context, designboom spoke with james von klemperer — president and design principal at KPF. among other topics, von klemperer discusses the challenges of completing the supertall structure and how its materiality was informed by the neighboring buildings. read the interview in full below.

interview kpf james von klemperer
image by raimund koch (also main image)



designboom (DB): what were the challenges of building a supertall tower on such a complicated site?


james von klemperer (JvK): one set of challenges has to do with design, another with construction. when designing the building, we had to put a number of diverse functions (office entries, train hall, metro entry, branch bank, truck dock, retail space) together on one 43,000 square foot site. the plan that emerged is an intricate puzzle, which appears to the user as a simple solution.

interview kpf james von klemperer
image by raimund koch



JvK (continued): on the construction side, the demolition, excavation, and erection of the tower took place in an urban setting immediately adjacent to one of the nation’s busiest transit hubs. to maintain safety and keep to schedule, this required consummate staging and planning by tishman, hines, and SL green. the tower followed a ‘steel first’, with a self-climbing ‘peri’ system building the concrete core within a steel frame.

interview kpf james von klemperer
image by raimund koch



DB: one vanderbilt comprises four interlocking and tapering volumes. how did this form come about?


JvK: the four interlocking volume idea came to us during the concept phase of design. the pinwheel form allowed us to drop individual masses off at different heights, so that the top diminishes in size dramatically before terminating in a single spire.

interview kpf james von klemperer
image by max touhey



JvK (continued): at the base, these nested volumes begin at different heights and angles, allowing us to open views to and from neighboring grand central terminal, and creating public space. this helps to promote an atmosphere of visual permeability. in addition, the four-part composition gives the tower a graceful proportion. combined with the tapered geometry, the resulting form is especially slender.

interview kpf james von klemperer
image by raimund koch



DB: in what ways does one vanderbilt compare or engage with neighboring skyscrapers such as the chrysler building and the empire state building?


JvK: the top of one vanderbilt makes a significant contribution to new york’s skyline. while the building’s height makes it the tallest office building in midtown, it is also the character of form that makes it remarkable. like the empire state and chrysler buildings, it terminates in a central mast. this recalls the figural designs of its neighbors.


image by max touhey


JvK (continued): one vanderbilt also recalls the golden age of new york towers in the solidity of its exterior. rather than cladding the walls exclusively in glass, every floor features textured terracotta spandrels. this resonates harmoniously with the architecture of the older station district.

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by max touhey



DB: can you explain how the terracotta was used, and how this relates to grand central terminal next door?


JvK: as just mentioned an off-white terracotta is used to clad typical exterior spandrels. in addition, a reddish tan version of the same material forms the soffits of major public spaces at the base of the building. this echoes the great terracotta ceiling vaults of grand central designed by guastavino more than one hundred years ago.

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by max touhey



DB: how are the new transit connections integrated within the building?


JvK: by connecting at grade and underground to one vanderbilt, the station opens up and extends itself to the west. the new tower accommodates a 24-hour public train hall within its footprint.

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by max touhey



DB: what benefits to the public realm can visitors to the site expect to see?


JvK: the major contribution to the public realm is made by de-mapping one block of vanderbilt avenue, thus establishing a public plaza. this space serves as a doorstep and a threshold for those emerging from the transit hub. this will be one of the most frequently traversed spaces in new york. 

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by raimund koch



DB: is there one aspect of the project that the design team takes particular pride in?


JvK: now that we see this building completed, we are most proud of the role that it plays in activating the neighborhood. once a drab station district, the area is now being rejuvenated. one vanderbilt has become a catalyst for the reemergence of east midtown.

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by raimund koch

interview: KPF's james von klemperer on the design of new york's 'one vanderbilt'
image by raimund koch



project info:


name: one vanderbilt
location: new york city, NY
client: SL green realty corporation, 420 lexington avenue, new york, NY 10170


kohn pedersen fox (KPF) team —
chairman: a. eugene kohn, FAIA RIBA JIA
lead design principal: james von klemperer, FAIA RIBA
managing principals: dominic dunn, AIA | charles ippolito, AIA LEED AP BD+C
design principals: jeffrey kenoff, AIA | trent tesch, AIA NCARB 
managing director: andrew cleary, AIA
senior designer: darina zlateva, AIA
job captain: nicole mcglinn-morrison, AIA


kohn pedersen fox project team and contributors: rachel villalta, katsunori shigemi, alessandro boccacci, steven smolyn, rebecca kent


matthew acer, christopher allen, laura austin, theodore carpinelli, gera feigon, javier galindo, anton gladden, susan green, younhak jeong, algis kalvaitis, jerrod kennard, soroush khajegi, kiyong lee, mark long, meghan malone, stephen martinez, meg mayell, joseph michael, brandon mut, muchan park, jennifer pehr, burgess rice, stephanie rogowski, ian siegel, maxwell strauss, justin whiteford, lucien wilson, xin zhang


consultant team —
eastside access: AECOM, new york, NY
environmental consultant: AKRF, inc., new york, NY
steel consultant: bramco plus LLC, new york, NY
acoustical consultant: cerami associates, new york, NY
code consultant: code consultants professional engineers, new york, NY
façade maintenance: c.s caulkins co. inc., new york, NY
well building consultant: delos, new york, NY
department of city planning, new york, NY
special inspection demolition: domani inspection service, inc., valley stream, NY
programming & interior architect: gensler, new york, NY
landmark consultant: higgins quasebarth & partners, new york, NY
development manager: hines, new york, NY
demolition engineer: howard i. shapiro & associates, lynbrook, NY
security engineer: HMA consulting, houston, TX
building envelope consultant: israel berger & associates, new york, NY
MEP engineer: jaros baum & bolles, new york, NY
community outreach: kasirer consulting, LLC, new york, NY
geotechnical/civil engineers: langan, new york, NY
expeditor: milrose consultants, inc., new york, NY
MTA metro-north railroad, new york, NY
MTA real estate, new york, NY
signage consultant: pentagram, new york, NY
wind/snow/ice: rowan williams davies & irwin, inc. (RWDI), guelph, ON
structural engineer: severud associates, new york, NY
preservation engineer: silman, new york, NY
MTA/NYCTA consultant: stantec, new york, NY
security consultant: stone engineering, new york, NY
threat assessment: T&M protection resources, new york, NY
construction manager: tishman, new york, NY
vertical transport: VDA (van deusen & associates), east hanover, NJ
LEED/energy: vidaris/viridian energy & environmental, norwalk, CT
vibration monitoring: vibra tech, mount holly, NJ
demolition contractor: waldorf demolition, englewood, NJ
stone consultant: wiss, janney, elstner associates, fairfax, VA
environmental consultant: WCD group/emteque LLC, new york, NY
construction consultant: lovett silverman, ramsey, NJ
construction engineering consultant: thornton tomaietti, new york, NY
lighting consultant: tillotson, new york, NY

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy






a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

designboom will always be there for you

milan, new york, beijing, tokyo,  since 1999