135 East 57th Street

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These two spaces, one at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and East 57th Street, the other further west on East 57th Street, offer dramatically distinct environments partially explained by their zoning pedigree. The plaza is grandly theatrical, a large quarter circle left over by the concave front of the office tower base. Situated near the street corner is something that, located in a romantic country landscape, might be called a folly. Here, it is an eye-popping, pseudoclassical pergola com- posed of four sets of two marble-clad columns. The own- ers call it a “tempietto.” Like One Worldwide Plaza, 9 West 57th Street , and 300 East 85th Street, among others, this space becomes etched in collective memory through the presence of an object. Its functionality is simply an added benefit. The rounded interior provides several built-in backless stone seating surfaces, although the sections with backs have sloped their surfaces such that sitting is impossible. At both sides of the tempietto are two square fountains with hedges that extend toward, without ever meeting, the street corner. Seating is also provided on the interior side of the fountains.

The open park space to the west is vastly different from the plaza. It is narrow, deep, and intimate, with planter trees along east and west walls that extend their canopies over most of the middle. Colorful flowers abound. At the rear wall is a waterfall topped with a granite globe, while artwork occupies the middle of the wall to the west. Usable amenities include a small food kiosk, movable cafe tables and chairs, and eight wood benches built into the planters that create semiprivate seating areas.

Although it is not apparent to the naked eye, the open park space is situated on a zoning lot belonging to the Galleria, a building located west of the space. When the Galleria was developed in 1973, the owner agreed to provide an open park space on this lot, known in the parlance of “block and lot” identifications as Lot 8, after an existing building was demolished. Only when 135 East 57th Street was developed more than a decade later, however, was this obligation satisfied. The Galleria owner had agreed to provide 2,500 square feet of open park space. Because the public space on Lot 8 is 2,008 square feet, an additional 492 square feet of open park space had to be provided. That space is seamlessly blended with the 4,820-square-foot plaza at the corner, creating an undivided hybrid public space there of 5,312 square feet.

Although it was built years after the City adopted new, more demanding zoning rules in 1975 and 1982 for plazas at midtown commercial buildings, this plaza was located in one of the few remaining zoning districts that continued to allow the provision of “as-of-right” plazas governed by the earlier, less demanding rules. Were this space controlled solely by those rules, it could have been another empty horizontal plane devoid of the design features and usable amenities required in post-1975 spaces. Thankfully, the owner and City Planning Commission were able to arrange for a better, more functional space as a component for fulfilling the Galleria’s long-standing obligation.

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