Art History Lab

The MetLife Building: A Masterpiece of Architecture and Art Works

The MetLife Building: A Midtown Icon

In the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the MetLife Building stands tall as an emblem of the International style of architecture. With its clean lines, sleek faade, and impressive stature, the building has been a fixture of the New York skyline for over half a century.

Originally known as the Pan Am Building, it was designed by a team of architects led by Walter Gropius, and built in 1963 at a cost of $116 million. Today, it occupies an entire city block between 45th and 46th Streets, and is one of the most recognizable buildings in New York City.

In this article, we will explore the architecture and design, location and history, and facade of the MetLife Building.

Architecture and Design

The MetLife Building was designed by a team led by Walter Gropius, with Richard Roth and Pietro Belluschi as the project architects. The building was designed in the International style of architecture, which emphasizes functionality, efficiency, and simplicity.

It also incorporates elements of other architectural styles, including Art Deco and Modernism. The building is made of precast concrete and Mo-Sai panels, which were a patented cladding system using quartz aggregate.

Interestingly, it was one of the first buildings to use precast concrete on this scale. This technique allowed for faster construction times and lower costs.

The panels also created a uniform surface that was easy to clean and maintain. The MetLife Building stands 808 feet tall and has 59 floors.

It was the tallest building in New York City outside of Downtown Manhattan when it was completed. The building’s design features a distinctive four-story base with large open plazas on each side, which are lined with shops and restaurants.

Location and History

The MetLife Building is located in Midtown Manhattan, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. The building site was originally owned by Pan American World Airways, and the building was initially constructed as the world headquarters for the airline.

It was designed to be a city within a city, with its own power plant, post office, and helicopter landing pad. In 1981, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company purchased the building and renamed it the MetLife Building.

Today, it is a mixed-use building, with office space, retail space, and a public observation deck on the 80th floor. The building is also home to Grand Central City, a shopping and dining complex connected to Grand Central Terminal.


The MetLife Building’s facade is made of precast concrete panels that are treated with a quartz aggregate to give them a rough finish. The panels are attached to the building using a system of concrete mullions and spandrels.

The spandrels are the vertical members between the windows, and the mullions are the horizontal members. While the building’s facade has weathered the test of time reasonably well, it has not been without its challenges.

In the late 1980s, the company that produced the Mo-Sai panels declared bankruptcy, making it challenging to repair or replace any of the panels that have suffered from deterioration over the years. Additionally, the weight of the panels and mullions has put a strain on the building’s structure, which has required reinforcement over time.


The MetLife Building is an iconic example of the International style of architecture that dominated the mid-twentieth century. With its use of precast concrete, Mo-Sai panels, and clean lines, it represents a type of design that emphasized functionality and simplicity over ornamentation.

Today, it remains an essential part of New York’s skyline and serves as an anchor to the Midtown area. Its design and history continue to fascinate architects and those with an appreciation for the built environment.

The MetLife Building Structure: A Study of Form, Function, and Innovation

The MetLife Building in Midtown Manhattan is a towering example of the International style of architecture that rose to prominence in the mid-twentieth century. Its design is renowned for its focus on functionality, efficiency, and simplicity, elements that are reflected in every aspect of the building, from the facade to the structure.

In this article, we will delve into the substructure and support system, the composite action and floor slabs, telephone center and cables, and the refrigeration plant and air system.

Substructure and Support

The MetLife Building is built on a site that was previously occupied by a series of rail yards and railroad lines that connected Grand Central Terminal to the New York and Harlem Railroad. The building’s foundation had to be designed to accommodate these lines, making the substructure particularly challenging.

The substructure of the building consists of a series of columns that rest on massive concrete footings, which are supported by bedrock. The original design also included two subterranean levels that provided space for a power plant, parking garage, and mail handling facility.

The subterranean levels allowed for the building to remain relatively unobtrusive at street level while providing ample space for the building’s essential systems.

Composite Action and Floor Slabs

One of the key features of the MetLife Building’s structural design is the composite action between the concrete slabs and the steel plates. The steel plates are used as a form of reinforcement for the concrete slabs, allowing them to carry greater loads without any resultant increase in their thickness.

The use of steel plates also makes the building’s floors lightweight, which was a crucial consideration during the construction phase. The building’s location, in an area with adverse weather conditions, necessitated the use of lightweight materials to reduce the potential for damage.

Additionally, the use of lightweight materials meant that the floors could be erected more quickly, saving time and reducing construction costs.

Telephone Center and Cables

The MetLife Building was designed to house a centralized telephone facility that could accommodate the needs of the building’s occupants. In its heyday, the building hosted over 30,000 telephones, which required a vast and complex network of cables and switches to connect them all.

The telephone center is situated on the 59th floor, which is the uppermost level of the building. The cables are routed through the building’s core, which is supported by the central elevators and stairwells.

Interestingly, some of the telephone cables pass through the roof of the subway tunnel that runs beneath the building. This is a testament to the engineering ingenuity that went into the building’s design.

Refrigeration Plant and Air System

The MetLife Building has a cutting-edge refrigeration plant that uses steam power to chill water, which then circulates through a system of fan chambers, ducts, and pipes to cool the building. The plant’s unique design allowed for enhanced energy efficiency and reduced energy consumption, making it an early example of green building practices.

The building’s air system is also noteworthy, with individual fan chambers located on each floor. The fan chambers draw in fresh air from outside, which is then filtered and circulated through the building’s ducts and pipes to provide clean and healthy air to occupants.


The MetLife Building remains an essential example of International style architecture and innovation, showcasing not only its iconic exterior but also its groundbreaking substructure, composite action, telephone center, and refrigeration plant. Its design, and the various systems it employs, continues to inspire architects and engineers around the world, and its importance to the New York City skyline remains.

The MetLife Building Lobby and Artworks: A Story of Collaboration and Controversy

The MetLife Building in Midtown Manhattan is a celebrated example of the International style of architecture that rose to prominence in the mid-twentieth century. The building’s exterior was designed to be both functional and beautiful, featuring a distinctive four-story base with large open plazas on each side, and its interior was designed to be equally striking, providing a visual feast for its visitors.

In this article, we will delve into the building’s lobby and artworks, as well as the frequently asked questions, looking to find answers to the most asked questions.

Architecture and Renovations

The MetLife Building’s lobby is a pedestrian corridor that cuts through the massive structure, allowing for easy passage between 45th and 46th Streets. The lobby is a marvel of modern architecture, with its soaring ceilings, minimalist design, and escalators that ascend to the mezzanine levels.

The building’s lobby underwent an extensive renovation in the late 1990s, led by architects Warren Platner and Kohn Pedersen Fox. The renovation focused on enhancing the building’s existing features while modernizing it to meet the needs of contemporary occupants.

The lobby’s original design featured a combination of materials, including travertine, bronze, and glass. The renovation preserved these materials while adding new finishes, such as light-colored travertine, which brightened up the space and gave it a more open feel.

Artworks and Reception

The MetLife Building’s lobby is home to two important artworks that are considered examples of some of the finest modern art in New York City. The first, “Flight,” by Richard Lippold, is a massive, hanging sculpture that measures 28 feet long and 21 feet wide.

It consists of a series of thin, gold-plated wires that form a complex geometrical pattern and is located above the escalators in the building’s lobby. The other artwork is a series of three panels by Josef Albers entitled “Manhattan.” The panels are made of glass and feature a range of colors and shapes that hint at the city’s skyline and architecture.

The panels are located on the mezzanine level of the lobby and provide a stunning visual element that is both accessible and awe-inspiring. However, the fate of these two artworks was once contentious.

Preservationists and art advocates fought to save “Flight” from being dismantled and moved to a different location when the ownership of the building changed hands. Eventually, the artwork was preserved and can still be enjoyed by MetLife Building’s visitors.

There were also concerns that the “Manhattan” panels would be removed, but they were ultimately protected as an essential part of the building’s history.

Frequently Asked Questions

One of the most frequently asked questions about the MetLife Building is the height and whether it has a helipad. The building does have a helipad on its roof, which was built to accommodate the helicopter traffic that was expected to become a common mode of transport in the 1960s.

The building stands at a height of 808 feet or 246 meters, including the spire on top. Another frequently asked question is about the building’s observation deck.

Unfortunately, there is currently no observation deck available for visitors to enjoy the view of New York City. The original observation deck was located on the 82nd floor of the building and was closed to the public in 1999.

Today, the top level of the building’s tower houses a restaurant, whereas the lower levels are occupied by various offices, such as the Bvlgari office.


The MetLife Building in Midtown Manhattan is a towering example of contemporary design and innovative construction. Its lobby and artworks provide a fascinating insight into the building’s inner workings and history, while its frequently asked questions allow visitors to understand the prominent aspects of the building.

It serves as a landmark to the city’s aesthetic, development, and contribution to the modern architectural landscape. The MetLife Building stands as an iconic example of the International style of architecture, with its sleek facade and impressive stature.

From its substructure and support system to its composite action and floor slabs, every aspect of the building’s structure is a testament to innovative design and engineering. The lobby, adorned with striking artworks like Richard Lippold’s “Flight” and Josef Albers’ “Manhattan,” adds a touch of artistic brilliance to the building’s interior.

As visitors explore the building’s history and unique features, they are reminded of the enduring impact of architectural innovation and the ability of art to elevate our environment. The MetLife Building serves as a symbol of New York City’s architectural prowess, drawing admiration from locals and visitors alike.

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