With no central nervous system controlling the whole, this 50,095-square-foot plaza is distributed into seven fragments covering virtually all of the otherwise unoccupied lot area of this full-block complex bordered by Seventh Avenue, West 33rd Street, Eighth Avenue, and West 34th Street. Two notches in the north and south corners of a detached existing building on Seventh Avenue create tiny plaza areas adjacent to the public sidewalk. An open-air rectangular through-block passage connecting West 33rd and 34th Streets is located between the Seventh Avenue building and One Penn Plaza. Long and short rectangular strips of plaza flank north and south sides of One Penn Plaza, in front of the two small arcades. The largest and most usable of the plaza areas is near Eighth Avenue, between low-rise store fronts and the western side of the tower.
Several years ago, the owner voluntarily upgraded substantial portions of this “as-of-right” plaza in anticipation of filing an application to the City for permission to close the space at night, an application that only succeeds with such upgrading. Although the application was never filed, the improvement was nonetheless completed, and the positive results are corroborated by substantially increased public use.
Elevated several steps above the sidewalk, the plaza features at its middle a unique water feature: a 10-foot-tall stone combination fountain that emits fog in summer and steam in winter. The fog is made from regular domestic cold water broken up into small particles by a fan in the basement underneath the fountain. The steam comes from a Con Edison steam line whose pressure is dramatically reduced by the time it reaches the fountain. According to the architect for the project, given the wind-tunnel problems created by the juxtaposition of One Penn Plaza, the plaza surface, and the low-rise buildings, a traditional fountain “would have splashed water all over the place.” Besides the novelty of it, however, what is especially refreshing is the implicit recognition that New York is a northern city with a substantial number of cold days, and that outdoor public spaces need to take better account of the reality of winter in their designs.
The rest of the plaza is strong on functionality. Semicircular stone benches surround planters at both side street entrances and, along with copious amounts of ledge seating, accommodate the large lunchtime crowds that appear to enjoy the sunny environment and the choices from the various food outlets. Landscaping, especially the trees nestled in two areas toward the west, soften the space. The low-rise buildings effectively buffer the plaza from Eighth Avenue.
The through-block passage nearer Seventh Avenue has also been transformed. Once an empty corridor, it now provides bench seating in three cigar-shaped configurations to satisfy lunchtime patrons who prefer the food outlets here.