Sloping up and down as it connects West 49th and 50th Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, this plaza represents a hybrid public space typology: a space that serves as back yard and front yard at the same time. Sandwiched between the back of an office tower and the front of a residential tower, the plaza forges a common ground for office workers, residents, and visitors. Indeed, on any given day, its large, diverse community of users might include lawyers from Cravath Swaine & Moore, advertising account representatives from Ogilvey & Mather, condominium owners, health club members, restaurant and cinema patrons, and neighboring Clinton residents.
Mixed-use developments such as One Worldwide Plaza engage the social potential of mixed-use development when they provide well located, well designed, highly functional public space for mixing. This plaza capably meets that challenge. Its placement between the two buildings was clever, gaining critical mass and allegiance from two large sets of users. Its half-acre size, numerous movable chairs, comfortable ledge seating, food service at north and south ends, decorative water fountain, and landscaping of trees and shrubs render it highly functional for the diverse audience. Neon-vested private security guards maintain building management’s sense of behavioral decorum, even to the point of asking a shirtless sun worshiper to put his shirt back on.
The plaza’s theme of commonality is subtly reinforced in other ways. The red-brick paving integrates visually the façades of the bookend buildings. The iconic sculptural fountain is composed of four standing bronze nude women balancing, almost like caryatids, a large metal globe on their heads, while four disembodied male heads spout water into the pool below. The allusion to the famed bronze sculpture Atlas (1937), by Lee Lawrie, shouldering the world’s burdens on the west side of Fifth Avenue in front of a Rockefeller Center building between West 50th and 51st Streets, is unmistakable, even admirable, conceptually connecting this development to Rockefeller Center and its superb mixing of buildings and public space, although the owners probably had their development’s name, One Worldwide Plaza, more in mind. The star-shaped fountain ledge is inviting and heavily used on hot summer days.
As a space slightly off the beaten path, the plaza is helped by such draws as the movie theaters on its West 50th Street side. Although not required by the legal actions creating the space, the theaters draw additional persons that ensure an active and varied group of users during evening as well as daylight hours. Lined with storefronts, the elliptical arcades at the base of the office building connect the plaza to Eighth Avenue. The public restrooms are located inside the arcade immediately north of the entrance off the plaza. Situated at the base of the office building near Eighth Avenue, with an elevator closer to West 49th Street and an escalator closer to West 50th Street, subway access areas connect the plaza to the rest of the city.