The name “Cass Gilbert” on the cornerstone of 51 Madison Avenue, also known as the New York Life Building, is as instant an indicator of this 33-story high rise’s provenance as its striking neo-gothic looks. One of New York’s defining architects in the early 20th century, Gilbert designed many of New York’s most recognizable buildings, and 51 Madison Avenue — from the gold pinnacle on its roof to the National Historic Landmark marker at street level — inarguably ranks with the city’s most iconic buildings. But while students of the skyline know 51 Madison Avenue, few know its secret — which is that, despite being built in 1928, 51 Madison is currently one of New York City’s greenest and most efficient high rises.
A series of aggressive retrofits undertaken between 2004 and ’07 have ensured that 51 Madison has reduced its CO2 emissions by over 18 million pounds per year — the equivalent of taking over 1,500 cars off the road, and enough to earn 51 Madison Energy Star recognition from the EPA in both 2007 and ’08. While 51 Madison’s classic looks have remained unchanged — and in the case of the recently renovated signature eight-story pinnacle on its roof, even enjoyed an upgrade of their own — all of 51 Madison’s building systems have been brought up to the most state-of-the-art 21st century standards. 51 Madison’s main air handlers were replaced during the retrofitting process and upgraded from constant volume to a notably more efficient variable air volume fan system. Equally impressively, over 50 percent of 51 Madison’s tenant-occupied class A commercial spaces enjoyed an upgrade providing them with more efficient lighting pegged to occupancy sensors, all of which is now controlled by a master energy management system that makes continued performance optimization possible.
A classic high rise on the outside and a thoroughly modern one on the inside, 51 Madison represents both classic New York style and cutting-edge sustainable architecture innovation. Cass Gilbert would surely be proud, if probably a bit surprised to see the 21st-century high-rise that has taken up residence within 51 Madison’s neo-gothic walls.
- 51 Madison Ave, New York, New York
- Madison Square
- Energy Star
- New York Life Insurance Company
- Cass Gilbert
- Year Built
- Energy Star awarded in 2011 (77), 2010 (75), 2009 (80), 2008 (76), and 2007 (81); National Historic Landmark; New York City Landmark
- Efficient Variable Air Volume Fan System
- Energy-Efficient Lighting
- Occupancy Sensor Lighting System