40 East 52nd Street

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Even experienced public space observers might be forgiven for assuming that the through-block corridor inside this office tower is a public space. To begin with, similarly configured through-block connections have been encouraged, even required, elsewhere in the city. Another misleading clue is the existence of a through block arcade directly to the north across East 52nd Street at Park Avenue Plaza, connecting to East 53rd Street, which, together with this corridor, would create a two-block mid-block pedestrian pathway. However, the interior corridor here is a private lobby, and the only public space is the urban plaza on the north side of East 51st Street between Park and Madison Avenues.

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

Because other buildings along the north side of East 51st Street hug their lot line, this plaza’s existence is hard to discern from either avenue. Street trees along the public sidewalk thus become an important signal for passersby that this frontage is different. Like the nearby urban plazas at Park Avenue Tower four blocks north on East 55th Street and Tower 49 several blocks southeast on East 48th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, the space is wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep. Like the urban plaza at the Deutsche Bank building several blocks to the west on West 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the space adopts granite as its material of choice for all surfaces. None of this is to say that this urban plaza is especially derivative of others, but simply to suggest that plaza designers rely on a common vocabulary and can end up saying many of the same things.

The openness of the design is moderated by a small round planter with four trees and flowers in the middle. Seating is provided in three configurations and locations: a ledge encircling the planter, a linear bench along the western wall, and a ledge surrounding the water sculpture to the east. Entitled Water Trilogy (1986), by sculptor Ron Mehlman, this granite-and-glass abstract work is composed of a tall, narrow trough, set vertically, flanked by slabs and cascading cubes. Water traverses various parts of the trilogy, and the effect is most pronounced when lit at night.

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