CBS / "Black Rock"
51 W. 52 Street, 1965

Architect: Eero Saarinen
Developer: Columbia Broadcasting System
Structural Engineers: Weidlinger Associates
General Contractor: George A. Fuller Company
Height: 491 ft./ 150 m

This 38-story, sheer, granite-clad tower is the only skyscraper designed by the late Eero Saarinen, who died rather suddenly in 1961. It was completed by his colleagues, especially Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and a young associate named Harold Roth who worked closely with CBS President Frank Stanton.

Black Rock, as the building is often called because of its dark granite skin, was the first (and one of the only) New York skyscrapers with a reinforced concrete frame. The plan, which Saarinen called “a rectangular donut,” was unusual, too. A ring of five-foot-wide triangular columns on ten-foot centers surrounds the perimeter and a central concrete core containing services and vertical transportation, permitting clear spans for offices with no need for corridors and no workspace more than 35 feet from a window.

Because the columns are close together and project at 45-degree angles, the dark glass between them is barely visible. Black Rock is the antithesis of the lightly framed, glass- and-aluminum-skinned skyscrapers around it on Sixth Avenue. Because he admired Mies van der Rohe so much, Saarinen tried to compete with the Seagram Building by making CBS as different as possible. It is not set up on piloti on a podium but firmly planted in the ground. It is sheathed in granite instead of bronze, vertically striped rather than gridded, and the same on all four facades. And because its columns are triangulated, it has a jagged skyline, not a flat top.

Black Rock’s columns rise out of a recessed base and soar straight up 491 feet. These piers, which are structural, contain space for air-conditioning and plumbing ducts, allow more light from different angles to enter the relatively small windows than conventional columns do, and provide better sight lines for views out. Striving for maximal simplicity, Saarinen wanted to make the building square in plan, but since the site was deeper than wide, he made it a slightly rectangular (135- by 160 feet), though that is not particularly apparent.

Text by Jayne Merkel.