Empire State Plaza

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Empire State Plaza
EmpirePlaza17.jpg
Aerial view of the Empire State Plaza
Alternative names Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza
General information
Architectural style Modernist, Brutalist
Location Albany, New York
Address Between Madison Avenue and State Street, and Swan Street and Eagle Street
Coordinates 42°39′01″N 73°45′35″W / 42.650347°N 73.759688°W / 42.650347; -73.759688Coordinates: 42°39′01″N 73°45′35″W / 42.650347°N 73.759688°W / 42.650347; -73.759688
Current tenants Various government agencies of the State of New York
Construction started 1959
Completed 1976
Renovated 2001
Cost $1.7 Bn[citation needed]
Owner State of New York[1]
Height 44 stories, 589 feet (180 m)
Technical details
Structural system Reinforced concrete
Design and construction
Architect Wallace Harrison
Architecture firm Harrison & Abramovitz
Renovating team
Architect Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates

The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza (known commonly as the Empire State Plaza and less formally as the South Mall) is a complex of several state government buildings in downtown Albany, New York.

The complex was built between 1959 and 1976 at a projected total cost of $2 billion.[2] It houses several departments of the New York State administration and is integrated with the New York State Capitol, completed in 1899, which houses the state legislature. Among the offices located at the plaza are the Department of Health and the Biggs Laboratory of the Wadsworth Center.

History[edit]

The plaza was the idea of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was inspired to create the new government complex after Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Albany for a celebration of the area's Dutch history. Riding with the princess through a section of the city known colloquially as the Gut, Rockefeller was embarrassed and said later, "there's no question that the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to".[3]

Rockefeller conceived the basic design of the complex with architect Wallace Harrison in flight aboard the governor's private plane. Rockefeller doodled his ideas in pen on the back of a postcard, and Harrison revised them. They used the vast scope and style of Brasilia, Versailles and Chandigarh as models. The massive scale was designed to be appreciated from across the river as the dominant feature of the Albany skyline.[4]

Paying for the construction of the plaza was a major problem, since a bond issue for an Albany project would almost certainly have been disapproved by the statewide electorate. Despite the displacement of thousands of loyal political voters, Albany Mayor Erastus Corning worked with Rockefeller to engineer a funding scheme that utilized Albany County bonds instead of state bonds. During repayment, the state guaranteed the principal and interest payments in the form of rent for a plaza that was officially county property. Ownership was then to be transferred to the state in exchange for regular payments in lieu of taxes. Control of the bond issues gave Corning and party boss Daniel P. O'Connell influence when dealing with the Republican governor.[5] The bonds were paid in 2001 and the state assumed ownership, though it required years to do the paperwork to change title.[1]

After the 98.5-acre (39 ha) site was obtained using eminent domain, construction was begun in 1959 with an initial cost estimate of $250 million.[3] The project was plagued by delays. Unrealistic schedules set by the state forced contractors for various parts to interfere with each other during work. The poor working conditions caused some of the contractors to sue the state successfully later.[6]

The Cultural Education Center was completed in 1961, the Corning Tower and Agency buildings in 1966, and the Egg in 1976. Though the plaza was dedicated in 1973,[7] it finally began full operation in 1976 at a total cost of $1.7 billion. Today, more than 13,000 state employees work at the complex.[citation needed]

Architecture[edit]

The eastern elevation of the plaza

The Empire State Plaza consists of various marble and steel buildings, seated on a six-story marble platform, representing Rockefeller's concept of architecture as similar to sculpture.[4] Their exterior columns and narrow windows make them similar in style to the former World Trade Center towers in New York City, which were completed about the same time. The buildings constituting the plaza include:

The plaza is connected to the Times Union Center (a covered arena, known formerly as the Pepsi Arena) by a pedestrian bridge and to the New York State Capitol by an underground tunnel.

The scale of the buildings in the plaza is impressive, and the complex is the most easily recognizable aspect of the Albany skyline. The Corning Tower is the tallest building in New York state outside of New York City; the Swan Street Building is more than a quarter of a mile long and modeled partly on Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt.[citation needed] The plaza itself is actually the largest building of all.

The plaza has shade trees on the edges, and in the side gardens and memorials. Originally, hundreds of Norway maples were planted;[2] today, they have been classified as invasive plant species by the State of New York.[8]

The plaza also features a skating rink and fountains. Several memorials are located on the plaza, including the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial as well as memorials for World War II and the Vietnam War.

As of 2010, the plaza has been closed to traffic for the past several winters.

Layout[edit]

New York State Capitol, which is at the north end of the plaza

The buildings are set around a row of three reflecting pools. On the west side are the four 23-story, 310-foot (94 m) Agency towers. On the east side is the Egg (Meeting Center) and the 44-floor (589-foot/180 m) Erastus Corning Tower, which has an observation deck on the 42nd floor. On the south end is the Cultural Education Center, set on a higher platform; and on the north end is the New York State Capitol. While the Capitol predates the plaza, it is connected to the Concourse by an escalator which allows underground access to the rest of the plaza, most notably (to the New York State Legislature, at least), the Legislative Office Building.

The Concourse[edit]

The Concourse is Albany's "Underground City" completed in 1961 with food courts, a McDonald's restaurant, banks, a YMCA, a post office, a CDTA bus station, a Visitor's Center, and several retailers such as Hallmark Cards. The Concourse connects all buildings of the state plaza, and many state workers spend their lunch hour there. The Concourse also features various works of art and sculptures, part of the State collection of modern abstract art.

Art Collection[edit]

Concourse level of the plaza displays part of the Empire State Plaza Art Collection

The Empire State Plaza Art Collection is located throughout the plaza, within the concourse, buildings, and outdoor areas. The Collection includes 92 large-scale paintings, sculptures, and tapestries at various locations, and features works from the New York School of abstract modern art from the 1960s and 1970s. Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has termed the plaza's display of American art "...the most important State collection of modern art in the country".[citation needed] The Collection has also been called "the greatest collection of modern American art in any single public site that is not a museum".[9]

Artists represented in the Collection include Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Lyman Kipp, Robert Rauschenberg, Clement Meadmore, Ronald Bladen, Herbert Ferber, Forrest Myers, Dimitri Hadzi, William T. Williams, Ellsworth Kelly, Claes Oldenburg, George Rickey, James Rosati, Tony Smith, George Sugarman and Chryssa.[10][11]

Memorials[edit]

The Empire State Plaza has at least 15 memorials of various types, built by the New York State Office of General Services. State memorials to World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War are located here, as well as special memorials to women veterans, police, firefighters, crime victims, children, and missing persons.[12][11] An illustrated and annotated self-guided tour brochure is available for download.[13]

Controversy[edit]

View of the plaza from the South Mall Expressway below

The complex was the subject of significant controversy about the time of its construction. About 9,000 people were displaced, mostly from working-class and poorer sections of older Albany which was home to ethnic communities of Jews and Italians. The construction of the plaza occurred after the decline of Albany's downtown shopping, and the massive displacement of population allegedly hastened the process. Numerous restaurants, specialty shops, two major department stores, and downtown's last movie theater had shuttered by the end of construction. The majority of the displaced residents had not owned cars, which forced them to shop locally.[3] The elevated plaza separates the largely residential neighborhoods surrounding Washington Park and points west from the largely commercial streets between the State Capitol and the Hudson River.

The plaza has also been criticized for the cost of its lavish architecture (the towers are covered in marble), its sheer size, and its period architecture. In his 1991 book, The Shock of the New,[14] Robert Hughes refers to the buildings as being in "The International Power Style of the Fifties", comparing the buildings to those built by Fascist governments.

Crossing through the plaza is the South Mall Arterial, a short highway artery connecting to the Dunn Memorial Bridge. Construction of this highway destroyed many buildings of Albany's downtown. In the initial proposal, the highway was to go from Interstate 90 in North Greenbush (current exit 8 to NY Route 43), through Rensselaer, under the plaza, and connecting to the also-cancelled Mid-Crosstown Arterial, which would have extended from I-90 Exit 6, through the city, traveling underneath Washington Park, meeting with the South Mall Expressway in the process, and continuing on to the New York State Thruway at Exit 23. The current South Mall Arterial ends abruptly in a loop at Swan Street, with both eastbound and westbound lanes using the two outer portals of the four portal tunnel leading under the plaza. (The inner two were to be express lanes to the Mid-Crosstown Arterial/SME interchange underneath the park.) The only evidence of the original Mid-Crosstown Arterial is the four level stack interchange for I-90 at present day US 9.[citation needed]

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Paul Grondahl (February 9, 2004). "Closing the Books on Billion-Dollar Deal". p. B1. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  2. ^ a b Weisman, Steven R. (1976-06-24). "Albany Mall Is Enjoyed by Friend and Foe Alike". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c Farrell, William E. (1971-02-15). "Albany Mall Reveals the High Price of a Renaissance". New York Times (New York, New York: New York Times Co.). p. 44. 
  4. ^ a b Benjamin, Gerald; Hurd, T. Norman, eds. (1984). "The Builder". Rockefeller in Retrospect: The Governor's New York Legacy. Albany, N.Y.: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Govt. p. 90. ISBN 0-914341-01-4. OCLC 11770290. "In a deeper sense, art and architecture have a much more intimate relationship. For him, art and architecture often blurred, and there is no doubt that on one plane of consciousness, Rockefeller perceived the outer shell of buildings as sculpture.
    The Mall here in Albany, for instance, can be characterized as a group of forms on a platform – sculpture on a pedestal, if you will."
     
  5. ^ Steen, Ivan D. (1986). "The Corning Legacy". In Roberts, Ann F.; VanDyk, Judith A. Experiencing Albany: perspectives on a grand city's past. Albany, N.Y.: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government/State University of New York. p. 81. ISBN 0-914341-04-9. OCLC 21041861. 
  6. ^ Benjamin, Gerald; Hurd, T. Norman, eds. (1984). "Nelson Rockefeller and the New York Governorship". Rockefeller in Retrospect: The Governor's New York Legacy. Albany, N.Y.: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Govt. p. 297. ISBN 0-914341-01-4. OCLC 11770290. 
  7. ^ Matthews, Joe (29 September 1997). "Rockefeller's big dream realized". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Interim List of Invasive Plant Species in New York State". Advisory Invasive Plant List. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Empire State Plaza Art Collection". Visiting the Empire State Plaza. New York State Office of General Services. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Empire State Plaza Art Collection (online catalog)". Visiting the Empire State Plaza. New York State Office of General Services. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Anderson, Glenn D. Lowry ; Dennis R. (2002). The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection and Plaza Memorials (1st ed.). New York: Rizzoli Internat. Publ. ISBN 978-0847824557. 
  12. ^ "Memorials on the Empire State Plaza". Visiting the Empire State Plaza. New York State Office of General Services. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  13. ^ "A Self-Guide". Memorials on the Empire State Plaza: A Self-Guide. New York State Office of General Services. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  14. ^ Hughes, Robert (1991). The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27582-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Glenn D. Lowry ; Dennis R. (2002). The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection and Plaza Memorials (1st ed.). New York: Rizzoli Internat. Publ. ISBN 978-0847824557. 

External links[edit]