415 East 54th Street

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Located on the north side of East 54th Street between Sutton Place South and First Avenue, this well-designed residential plaza marshals comfortable proportions, quality materials, and favored amenities to produce its calm ambiance. The user is invited into the space by its strong physical connection with the outside. The public sidewalk and plaza use the same brick pavers, and generally maintain the same grade level, like the plaza-sidewalk relationship at River Tower across the street. The metal fence and lattice column-plank structure on the perimeter delineate without dividing. Enclosed on three sides, the space has a width and depth easily absorbed at a glance. The public space plaque is cheerfully visible to the west, unlike some plaques that display a passive-aggressive attitude toward public use by announcing a space’s publicness behind creeping vines and overgrown shrubs in out-of-the-way locations.

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

Three sextagonal, wooden-slat benches with trees in their middle occupy the foreground near the entrance, providing visual interest and convenient seating front and center in an area normally treated as a void. More wood benches and planters alternate with one another in front of the tall brick wall to the west, and a single planter with trees and shrubs frames the back.

The eastern side is taken up with a complex water feature and abundant landscaping, best viewed from the northeast corner of the space. Four lollipop-shaped bubblers and channels discharge rivulets of water into a moat fronting the glass-enclosed building lobby, creating the illusion that the water flows directly into the building and connects to an interior water pool. Even though residents do not walk through the space to reach their lobby, the glass wall ensures their attention on a daily basis. The space’s high level of maintenance speaks to management’s ongoing stewardship. Usable residual plaza, with several benches and trees, is located in front of the East 55th Street side of the building. Some residential neighborhoods are lucky to have one good space. This one-block stretch enjoys two residential plazas that meet some of the highest standards found in residential plaza design and maintenance. It is almost unfair.

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