255 East 49th Street

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Located at the northwest corner of East 49th Street and Second Avenue, this compact, park-like residential plaza furnishes a welcome physical and psychological break from the busy restaurant and retail sidewalk activity along Second Avenue. Trees grow out of its red-tiled floor, while a triangular planter with landscaping provides more trees. Two wooden benches accommodate three persons each, and the planter’s undulating hypotenuse ledge catches the overflow. Small touches, such as antique-style lampposts, demonstrate thoughtfulness of design. Standing guard at the southern edge, a tall painted aluminum-plate sculpture entitled Companions (1985), by William King, is meant to represent two friends greeting each other. The very compactness of the space does encourage users to interact with one another.

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

The accommodation of “insider” and “outsider” interests, especially at residential buildings, is constantly tested at public spaces. Here, building residents enter their lobby by way of a canopied passage within the visual residual portion of the residential plaza that is physically and visually separated from the rest of the space by a row of trees and landscaping. Thus, by design, Sterling Plaza has made a strong point distinguishing between private and public functionality. Sometimes such separation can be indicative of management’s disavowal of public space, but no such disavowal is evident here. The maintenance of the plaza is consistently exemplary and building residents are found in the space along with members of the public. As one resident recounts, “I figured it was public, because there are strange people here all the time that don’t live in the building. It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me to have it as part of my building. It’s nice to come out here when it’s sunny.”

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