767 Third Avenue

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Located at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and East 48th Street, the urban plaza and arcade expand the roster of fanciful public spaces, including 747 Third Avenue, 200 Water Street, and 77 Water Street, developed by the Kaufman organization. Here, the signature element is a gigantic chessboard adorning the wall of an abutting building at the eastern edge of the urban plaza.

A game is in progress. Like pieces from a magnetic traveling chess kit, giant blue disks outlined with images of pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queen, and king, compete against giant green disks. At the moment, the two sides appear evenly matched, with blue and green having captured one pawn and one knight apiece. At left is a flag with the message, “White moves.” To discover whether the blue or green disks are white, whether either of the players is Gary Kasparov, or how often the pieces are moved, a nearby sign suggests a visit to the building concierge. Additional touches confirm the Kaufman ancestry. Oversized whimsical metal footprints track east or west on top of metal grates in the East 48th Street sidewalk. A plaque gives credit to the designers.

The spaces break with tradition in other respects. “As-of-right” arcades are normally small in size and inconspicuous in design. This one is neither. To begin with, the ratio of arcade to plaza space is the reverse of most conditions, the arcade being larger than the plaza. Furthermore, unlike a common arcade’s narrow, rectilinear geometry, this one is curvaceous, relieved of 90-degree angles by the building’s curvilinear architecture. The arcade encircles the building, culminating in a capacious, slightly sunken area on East 48th Street displaying an antique car and coach. A small gangplank bridges the sunken area, conjuring up a moat in front of the building entrance, waiting to be filled with water. The urban plaza to the east supplies the functional amenities. Below the chessboard are four fixed wooden tables, each surrounded by four fixed backless wooden seats. Four additional benches flank north and south sides. To the south is an elevated platform whose approach up an overly steep ramp is rewarded by the best seat in the house.

With more than 500 privately owned public spaces, it is desirable that the public be able to distinguish one space from another. Spaces developed by the Kaufman organization usually may be relied upon to project unique personalities. Memorable spaces, like this one with its gigantic chessboard, become points of orientation and association that connect people to their physical environments.

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

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