300 East 54th Street
Connaught Tower

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Public spaces with prominent artworks frequently become identified in the public’s mind as “the space with the such-and-such sculpture.” That is true at this park on the south side of East 54th Street east of Second Avenue, where the signature element is a tall, red, welded steel sculpture located immediately inside the entrance. Easily misidentified as a Calder, the work is by artist Alexander Liberman. Entitled Accord (1979), its five discrete metal elements, including a steel ring at the base and four straight or curving vertical pieces, seek agreement among their various geometries.

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

The square park is actually a mid-block, through-block space that extends a small fingerlike corridor south to East 53rd Street. A short V-shaped planter forces entrants from East 54th Street to veer, pinball-like, left or right of the sculpture. The expanse of brick-paved surface is surrounded on three of four sides by angled planters holding trees and ground cover, and lined with sittable ledges. In the middle of the space are facing V-shaped planters that together fashion a small interior room furnished with two benches. Several additional benches are scattered about, including one located on a snippet of elevated terrace five steps above the park floor to the east. Sufficiently detached from the noise of the street, this alcove was discovered years ago by students from a nearby theater who would come here to exercise vocally. Although the primary entrance to the residential tower is not in the space, a rapport between building and park is nonetheless established by the presence of a protruding transparent glass window off the building lobby.

The term “park” is not found in the standard definitions of public spaces set forth in the Zoning Resolution; instead, this space was uniquely required and christened by a variance granted by the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals. There is, however, a plaza here that was produced under the “as-of-right” plaza provisions of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, and it is easily distinguishable from the complexity and functionality of the park. Wrapping around the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 54th Street, the plaza is extra sidewalk on Second Avenue and a semicircular drop-off driveway and pedestrian entrance for the building’s main entrance.

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