Architecture of Albany, New York
The architecture of Albany, New York is a cornucopia of building design ranging from the early 18th century to the present. Its history dates back to the first building built in Albany, a French fort built in 1540. This was destroyed by the annual Hudson River freshet and was rebuilt as Fort Nassau by the Dutch in 1614. It too was destroyed and eventually Fort Orange was built in 1624. Since then, Albany saw great expansion, ranging from the Dutch influenced mansions of downtown to the English inspired colonial homes. The 19th century saw a great rise in wealth of many citizens, many of whom brought in numerous different architectural styles when designing homes, offices, and industrial buildings. Much of this architecture was saved due to the policies of Albany Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd, who ran the city from 1942 until his death in 1983. One of the most monumental projects in the city's history was the Empire State Plaza, a billion-dollar project that produced an 8-building state complex and the tallest building in New York outside of New York City.
The Empire State Plaza, a collection of state agency office buildings, dominates almost any view of Albany. Built between 1965 and 1978 at the hand of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and architect Wallace Harrison, the complex is a powerful example of late American modern architecture and remains a controversial building project both for displacing city residents and for its architectural style. The most recognizable aspect of the complex is the Erastus Corning Tower, the tallest building in the state outside of New York City. Juxtaposed at the north end of the Plaza is the 19th-century New York State Capitol, the seat of the New York State Legislature and the home of the Governor's office.
Albany's initial architecture incorporated many Dutch influences, followed soon after by those of the English. The Quackenbush House, a Dutch Colonial brick mansion, was built c. 1736. Schuyler Mansion, a 1765 Georgian mansion, was built for Philip Schuyler, an American general during the Revolutionary War and later a United States Senator from New York; it became a National Historic Landmark in 1979. The oldest building currently standing in Albany is the Van Ostrande-Radliff House at 48 Hudson Avenue; scientific testing estimates it was built in 1728.
Albany City Hall, a Richardsonian Romanesque structure designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and opened in 1883, houses Albany's city government. The New York State Capitol was opened in 1899 (after 32 years of construction) at a cost of $25 million, making it the most expensive government building at the time. So notable were these two buildings in their day that in 1885 American Architect and Building News listed them among the top ten most beautiful buildings in the country. Albany's Union Station, a major Beaux-Arts design, was under construction at the same time; it opened in 1900. It was said that "perhaps no other building has been so important to the growth of Albany during the twentieth century as Union Station."
Albany's housing varies greatly, with mostly row houses in the older sections of town, closer to the river. The change in housing type looks like "ripples of housing styles radiating from downtown," with the row houses in the first ring. The second ring includes a surge in two-family homes in the late 19th century, which were serviced by electric street cars. Automobiles made it possible to move even further from downtown; outside the two-family home ring is a ring of one-family homes that were first built after World War II and are still being built today.
The Washington Avenue Armory opened in 1891; technically a Romanesque Revival design, its architect, Isaac Perry, was strongly influenced by Henry Richardson, who had previously worked with Perry on the State Capitol. Today the Armory is an entertainment venue. In 1912, the Beaux-Arts styled New York State Department of Education Building opened on Washington Avenue near the Capitol. It has a classical exterior, which features a block-long white marble colonnade. The 1920s brought the Art Deco movement, which is illustrated by the Home Savings Bank Building (1927) on North Pearl Street and the Alfred E. Smith Building (1930) on South Swan Street, two of Albany's tallest high-rises. In 1941, the Miss Albany Diner opened as "Lil's Diner". A classic "Silk City Diner" Art Deco design, Miss Albany is one of the few pre-World War II diners in the United States in near-original condition.
Architecture from the 1960s and 1970s is well represented in the city, especially at the W. Averell Harriman State Office Building Campus (1950s and 1960s) and on the uptown campus of the University at Albany (1962–1971). The state office campus, occupying a piece of land totaling nearly 330 acres (134 ha), is home to over 7,000 employees in approximately 16 buildings comprising about 3 million square feet (280,000 m²) of office space. It is a suburban-style, car-oriented campus bordered by an outer ring road that cuts the campus off from the surrounding neighborhoods. The state office campus was planned in the 1950s by governor W. Averell Harriman to offer more parking and easier access for state employees. The first building was built in 1956, but most of the buildings were built in the 1960s under Governor Rockefeller.
The uptown SUNY campus was built in the 1960s under Governor Nelson Rockefeller on the site of the city-owned Albany Country Club. Straying from the open campus layout made popular by both Union College in Schenectady and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, SUNY Albany has a centralized building layout. At its core is a large "podium" containing the academic and administrative buildings. Four dormitory complexes, each centered by a high-rise housing tower surrounded by a low-rise grouping of support buildings, are located at each corner of the podium. The architecture called for much use of concrete and glass, and the style has slender, round-topped columns and pillars reminiscent of those at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Downtown Albany has seen a revival in recent decades, often considered to have begun with Norstar Bank's renovation of the former Union Station as its corporate headquarters in 1986.[Note 1] The Times Union Center (TU Center), originally known as Knickerbocker Arena, was once slated for suburban Colonie, but was instead built downtown and opened in 1990. The TU Center, on South Pearl Street, and the renovated Palace Theatre (2003 renovation), on North Pearl Street, have anchored Pearl Street (around State Street) as an entertainment district with many bars and restaurants. Downtown has benefited from the Alive at 5 summer concert series, which takes place at the Corning Preserve, and the block party that follows each show on North Pearl Street. Other development in downtown includes the construction of the Dormitory Authority headquarters at 515 Broadway (1998); the Department of Environmental Conservation building, with its iconic green dome, at 625 Broadway (2001); the State Comptroller headquarters on State Street (2001); the Hudson River Way (2002), a pedestrian bridge connecting Broadway to the Corning Preserve; 677 Broadway (2005), "the first privately owned downtown office building in a generation"; and a Hampton Inn & Suites (2005) on Chapel Street. The late 2000s saw a real possibility for a long-discussed and controversial Albany Convention Center; as of August 2010, the Albany Convention Center Authority has already purchased 75% of the land needed to build the downtown project.
- In 2009, Bank of America (which now owns FleetBank, the bank that eventually bought Norstar) consolidated its operations in an office building on State Street, leaving the former train station vacant. Mayor Corning made great efforts to save the building, which had been owned by his great-grandfather's railroad a hundred years before. He was able to do it when governor Rockefeller brought state money in to purchase the building.
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