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ENTER the lobby of the Platinum — a sparkling glass-and-steel popsicle of a condominium that rises 43 stories above the circus lights of Eighth Avenue — and you may think you’ve stumbled into the lair of James Bond’s latest big-screen foe.
Twenty-six feet of roaring flames run along one wall, a deconstructed fireplace whose orange embers dance behind a blue-hued sheet of glass. Enormous plasma television screens stare down from stark white walls. Geometric furniture sits surrounded by a bubbling moat that circumnavigates the space.
The Web site for the building, where one-bedrooms start at $920,000, describes this scene as “a rarefied world etched in water and fire, stone and glass ... and power.” A woman leaving the lobby on a recent evening offered a less charitable opinion: she called it “a den of hell.” (The woman, who had been visiting a friend, declined to give her name for fear of offending the hostess.)
In an increasingly tough market that has left some high-rises sitting half-empty, the lobby has become a site of innovation for developers who find it more urgent than ever to make their buildings stand out from the crowd.
Forget the still life over the sofa: ho-hum accouterments have given way to ambitious design schemes that are equal parts amenity and advertisement. Owners are using their ground-floor spaces as an important marketing tool that can entice buyers with the promise of a certain lifestyle.
Some lobbies, once meant to capture the feel of a gallery, have become active commercial spaces where art is bought and sold. Other buildings try for a twist on familiar themes like Zen gardens, waterfalls and the traditional fireplace.
Art arrives in lobbies via a variety of channels, from the personal collections of building owners to commercial arrangements between galleries and developers. The decision can be personal: architects who turn to friends for inspiration. Or it can be made by committee, as a team of in-house designers sifting through catalogs and gallery books.
With so many factors at play, judging the success of a building’s lobby art is a subjective game. Developers and sales agents, predictably, are often agog; according to its owners, to enter the Platinum is to “realize that you have arrived at a cutting-edge building that is unlike any other you have seen before.”