250 East 40th Street

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The best portion of this residential plaza is located roughly 200 feet west of Second Avenue on the south side of East 40th Street. Unlike some residential plazas that expose themselves either too much or too little to adjacent streets and sidewalk, this space shrewdly adopts an intermediate position. Half its frontage is open to the sidewalk, half is lined by a three-foot-high planter. The effect is noticeable from outside and inside. Passersby feel that they are graciously admitted, and indeed can see over the planter into the space. Users within the space savor some sense of separation from the movement and noise of the external world, yet enjoy a spectacular view of the Chrysler building’s shining spire to the northwest.

Photo: Kayden et al. (2000)
Photo: Kayden et al. (2000)

Another effective choice is the absence of a separate residential entry corridor. Here, because the building’s entrance opens directly onto the northeast corner of the space, the space itself serves as shared entryway for private residents and public users alike. By declining to segregate the two, the design promotes a spirit of stewardship that often results in superior upkeep and social interaction.

Inside, a combination of enclosure and openness prevails. The building to the east, a 30-foot-high brick wall attached to an adjacent building to the west, and four majestic old trees rising from a neighboring lot to the south, define the edges of this open, red-brick courtyard. Indeed, it is a happy fortuity that the four trees, growing on a lot apparently not belonging to this lot, nonetheless serve the space well. The featured amenity is a 15-foot waterfall serenely descending down gray-brown granite tiles that leaven the ubiquitous red brick. Sittable ledges ring the water pool and are heavily occupied during warmer days. Interior sides of planters offer additional seating possibilities. Hidden in back behind the water pool is a small, shaded nook whose loose gravel surface and landscaping furnish a secret garden. It is easy to imagine a summer movie series utilizing the tall brick wall to the west as movie screen, the courtyard filled with a neighborhood audience.

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