Jacob Javits Plaza, New York, NY, USA

Location: New York, NY, USA
Client: U.S. General Services Administration
Size: 45,000 square fet
Status: Completed 1997
Awards: Phillip N. Winslow Landscape Design Award 1997, ASLA Honor Award 1997, GSA Design Award National Design Citation 1998

In 1992, the Federal Government undertook the repair of the waterproofing for the underground garage beneath the Jacob Javits Plaza. Because the existing plaza would be demolished during the waterproofing construction, there arose an opportunity to revitalize the plaza. During the time that Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” inhabited the plaza, this 14 foot high sculpture was an obstruction both visually and physically to pedestrians. After the sculpture was removed, the plaza remained vacant and disconnected from its context. The intent of the plaza redesign was to create a useable, lively open space in the heart of the city. Full art and landscape architectural design services were required for this transformation to take place.

The new plaza is reconnected to its surrounding context and provides innumerable seating opportunities for people having lunch or just for watching other people. Large planters which formerly existed at the northwest and southeast corners of the site have been removed, as well as the long-empty fountain which had occupied the only sunny portion of the site. By opening up the plaza, the connections between the plaza and the street are reestablished, and the people who wish to sit can do so in either sun or shade.

The new plaza is reconnected to its surrounding context and provides innumerable seating opportunities for people having lunch or just for watching other people. Large planters which formerly existed at the northwest and southeast corners of the site have been removed, as well as the long-empty fountain which had occupied the only sunny portion of the site. By opening up the plaza, the connections between the plaza and the street are reestablished, and the people who wish to sit can do so in either sun or shade.

The seating for the site is provided on twisting strands of New York City park benches. The double strands of back-to-back benches loop back and forth and allow for a variety of seating – intimate circles for groups and outside curves for those who wish to lunch alone. With their complex forms and bright green color, these benches energize the flat plane of the plaza in the same way that the French used the parterres embroideries which were punctuated by topiary forms and whose edges were defined by trees and buildings. The bright green color of the benches was selected because its reflectivity helps to enliven a plaza, which for the most part, is in shade.

At Jacob Javits Plaza, the benches swirl around the “topiary” or 6 foot tall grassy hemispheres that exude mist on hot days. Familiar lunchtime elements are provided such as blue enameled drinking fountains, orange wire-mesh trash cans, and Central Park lighting standards. While all of these elements are drawn from the Olmstedean tradition which maintains its hold in New York City, each element is tweaked slightly from its historic predecessor. These elements offer a critique of the art of landscape in New York City, where the ghost of Frederick Law Olmsted is too great a force for even New York to exorcise. The design itself offers a wry commentary on the fact that while New York remains a cultural mecca for most art forms, exploration in landscape architecture receives little support.