135 East 57th Street

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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  1. submitted by: Ruth Grigorov

    I approached The Cohen Brothers Park at 135 East 57th Street by walking south on the west side of Lexington Avenue. As I was half a block away, I saw the massive circular sculpture looming over the busy corner of 57th Street and Lexington Avenue. The pillars, made of dark heavy marble, held up a circular structure resembling a huge cement donut. I rounded the corner so as to get a better view of the structure and felt very small. Inside the circular pavilion, benches are carved into structure to provide seating. On each side of the structure, there are several plants, and a small waterfall. There are steps up to the pavilion from the corner of the block, and ramps to enter the plaza from both sides.
    135 East 57th Street is a property owned by Cohen Brothers Realty, a global property management company. What is interesting about this property, is that it actually contains two privately owned public spaces. The first is the entrance described above, and the second is a small park, much more secluded, around the corner from the main building. This offers a dramatically different experience than the main plaza area on the corner of 57th and Lexington. As opposed to the grand theatrical experience a visitor feels upon approaching the plaza, the park is deep, narrow, and much more intimate, as it penetrates into the block north of 57th street. Unfortunately this park was closed when I visited on Sunday afternoon, so I was unable to go inside. However, a view through the gate provided me with plenty of information. At the back there is a waterfall, and on the sides of the park there are several benches surrounded by plants, flowers, and trees. In the middle there are tables and chairs for more seating.
    The two POPS are interesting in relation to David Harvey’s spatial theory. The two spaces located on the same property lot are, of course, absolute spaces within themselves. They can be considered relative in that they provide platforms on which circulation of energy and people take place at all hours. They are relational in that they were created on the basis of laws which were made to re-define the standards of space in New York City; a change to the history of Manhattan. Furthermore, I found this location similar to the Panopticon in that it is circular in nature, and directly visible by the security desk in the lobby of the main building on the plaza. I stepped inside the building for a brief moment and observed that whoever is standing guard at the desk has a full view of the entire plaza from one end to the other. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an intended design feature for the building and plaza.
    Overall, I found this POPS to be very successful according to New York City standards for a POPS. Both areas were ADA accessible, and had plenty of greenery to create a sense of calm to distract from the busy neighborhood. The waterfalls also added to this effect.The circular design of the plaza allowed for functional circulation of pedestrians, as well as lots of visibility to ensure a sense of safety and openness. There were more than enough seating areas to accommodate a large number of people, making this POPS an ideal place for a quick break from the office.