This three-level covered pedestrian space may be entered from the east side of Third Avenue between East 49th and 50th Streets or from the south side of East 50th Street, roughly 150 feet east of Third Avenue. The avenue entrance heralds itself with overhanging white lattice and the Crystal Pavilion nameplate. If the idea of a crystal pavilion stimulates expectations of a fully skylit, glass-enclosed indoor space, then the reality of a darker interior enclosed principally by opaque surfaces but for a brief run of glass at the eastern side will disappoint. If the crystal allusion is meant to convey, however, the interior’s multiple sources of illumination and their rebounding off the numerous reflective surfaces, then the space will be found truer to its moniker.
The covered pedestrian space identifies its three public levels as terrace, pavilion, and atrium. These labels may be confusing, however, and the space is better understood as having street, concourse (lower), and mezzanine (second) floor levels. The street level is a wide, right-angled circulation corridor, connecting Third Avenue and East 50th Street entrances, and providing access to the other two levels. The concourse level, reached by escalator near the Third Avenue entrance, by freestanding elevator at the midpoint of the street-level corridor, or down 18 steps from the East 50th Street portal, supplies the most usable floor area, the majority of amenities, and the best vantage point for appreciating the space’s volume and design. The mezzanine level may be reached by elevator or via dramatic escalator into the sky seen through the glass wall and ceiling to the east.
When shafts of sunlight pass through the glass and reach the deepest levels, the interior does indeed come alive. Mostly, however, the job of illumination is assumed by a theatrical panoply of single spots and snaking fluorescent tubes hugging the underbellies of escalators and upper levels. Lightbulbs go on as the elevator cab rises, suggesting the carnival diversion in which individuals test their strength by slamming an oversized hammer onto a platform in order to propel an object to ring the bell. Stainless steel-colored columns rise past bands of horizontal corridor railings. Polished granite walls add more reflective surfaces.
The concourse level of the covered pedestrian space is organized into three “neighborhoods” of movable tables and chairs that are well utilized during lunch hour. One area is set up under the full-height ceiling at center, between the elevator and a small stage to the west that accommodates a piano. Several planters with palm fronds and sittable ledges are nearby, as are a waterfall and meandering riverlike pool. More clusters of tables and chairs are laid out along a corridor beneath the street-level corridor, in front of three cafés along the southern edge. A third collection of tables and chairs with adjacent café is hidden east of the elevator, within an intimate atrium of richly patterned marble floor and glass ceiling three stories above. It is here, next to another waterfall, that the aspiration of a crystal pavilion comes closest to realization. At a recent site visit, however, none of the water features was operational, although they are required to function while the space is open. Public restrooms are located under the stairs at the northeast portion of the concourse level. The mezzanine level rings the space, with several granite benches at its southern end. Here are additional points of observation for taking in the space below.