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What Is the Lipstick Building?

By B. Turner
Updated: May 17, 2024

The Lipstick Building is a skyscraper located at 885 Third Avenue near 53rd Street in New York City. The building features a post-modernist design that causes it to stand out against the square, plain structures located nearby, such as the NYC Post Office. This structure features an elliptical shape, as well as a telescoping appearance, where upper floors have a smaller footprint than those at the base of the building. The stepped-in structure of the building's levels, combined with its red granite exterior, gives it an appearance that resembles an opened tube of red lipstick. The Lipstick Building is also referred to as 53rd at Third based on its location.

Architects Phillip Johnson and John Burgee designed the Lipstick Building in an Italian Baroque style, and the structure was completed in 1986. It features 34 floors and a height of 453 feet (138 m). Bands of richly colored red granite are combined with ribbon-style windows and stainless steel accents to give the building its stylish, modern appearance. Red granite columns support the base of the structure, and help to form the first two levels. A massive lobby with an elevator bank is positioned in the center of these columns. The lobby of the Lipstick Building is also home to a coffee house known as the Lipstick Cafe.

Given the elliptical shape of the Lipstick Building, all of its interior and exterior walls are curved, resulting in a lack of corners and straight lines. This means that there are no corner offices, which are seen as a sign of rank or prestige in many United States workplaces. From another viewpoint, one could argue that every office in the building is actually a corner office. The telescoping nature of the Lipstick Building allows more natural light to reach the streets around the structure than a traditional square building. This structure was influenced by New York City building codes relating to day lighting and views.

While the Lipstick Building has been home to many businesses since its opening, perhaps none were more famous than that of Bernard Madoff, who leased the 17th through the 19th floors. Madoff operated an illegal Ponzi scheme out of this building, and scammed investors out of billions of dollars. Coincidentally, just after Madoff was arrested in 2008 and sent to prison, the owners of the building filed for bankruptcy. The building then became the property of the Royal Bank of Canada, which formed the New Lipstick LLC to manage the structure.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Dec 10, 2011

I always thought you would have a great view if you worked in the Lipstick Building. I lived in New York for several years, and worked in a building not too far from there.

I didn't have any windows in my office area, so always imagined what it would be like to have a view from one of their offices.

I did eat at the Lipstick Cafe a couple different times. I thought the food was pretty expensive, but no more than what you would pay for lunch at any place like that in that area of New York.

The food and atmosphere was always great, and it was nice to do for something special every now and then.

You probably wouldn't want to go there if you have small children though. It is mostly an upscale, adult crowd that most kids would find a little boring, and not much on the menu to suit their tastes.

By andee — On Dec 10, 2011

If you have never seen the Lipstick Building in person, it is hard to imagine who a skyscraper can stand out in the middle of New York.

Maybe it was because I was specifically looking for it, but it was easy for me to spot. My daughter lives in New York, and was telling me about it and had sent me some pictures of it.

She knows how much I love lipstick and thought I would be interested in seeing this building in person. I always said if you are having a bad day, put on a little bit of lipstick and you will feel better.

When I saw this building I immediately knew why they called it the Lipstick Building. I especially loved the red granite and the layered look. A very sleek, sophisticated looking building, much like a great tube of lipstick!

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