622 Third Avenue

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As of this writing, the privately owned public spaces at 622 Third Avenue, formerly the Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters, are undergoing a resizing, reconfiguration, and renovation under the terms of a zoning modification granted by the City Planning Commission in October, 1998. The newly approved plan is meant to produce superior clarity, functionality, and amenity to what has been a challenging and challenged effort of multilevel outdoor public space design.

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

Although the building has a one-story frontage and an address on Third Avenue, the bulk of its square footage is concentrated in the mid-block through-block tower located between Third and Lexington Avenues, with entrances on both East 40th and 41st Streets. From here, the public spaces radiate outward and upward in a highly complex, three-dimensional galaxy. The proposed alterations will not change most of these basic spatial alignments. “As-of-right” plaza will continue to be located west of the East 41st Street building frontage, with new planters and bike rack, and “as-of-right” arcade spaces will still grace the East 41st and 40th Street building entrances. Previously, two through block arcades formed a T-junction mid-block at the eastern edge of the tower, one running north-south between East 40th and 41st Streets, the other connecting Third Avenue to the midpoint of the north-south through block arcade. Now, the north-south through block arcade will be enclosed at both ends, while the east-west through block arcade will have its roof removed and be legally reclassified as plaza space.

An urban plaza will replace and functionally upgrade what had been an obscure, terraced “as-of-right” plaza running through-block between East 40th and 41st Streets adjacent to the north-south through block arcade. The linear space will be reconstructed to be completely at grade, with three areas of landscaped planters down the middle, plentiful ledge seating, and tables and chairs. Most significantly, the Escher-like erection of outdoor escalators and stairs next to East 40th Street that provided entry to the landscaped terrace one level up will be removed. Although theoretically useful for easy access, the escalators were often out-of-order and the overall structure made the mid-block part of the plaza feel trapped and disconnected. By opening up the southern end, more light and air and a greater sense of openness and freedom should prevail.

The escalators have been traded in for an elevator at the northwest corner of the landscaped terrace to ferry individuals mechanically to and from the space, while stairs will continue to provide access from Third Avenue north of the corner at East 40th Street. Hopefully this combination will adequately handle user traffic to the newest incarnation of the landscaped terrace occupying the rooftop of the tower’s one-story extension at the corner of Third Avenue and East 40th Street. That space has always had promise, with its southern exposure and remove from the street, but the original design and amenities never matched the promise. Mushroom-domed tables, molded plastic seats, and planters with trimmed hedges proved perfunctory at best, depressing at worst. The new design upgrades everything, including the seating, tables, landscaping, trees, and surface materials, and requires a food service kiosk which must be operated in good faith at reasonable times. If all works as planned, this landscaped terrace should prove a substantial lunchtime competitor to the elevated public space at Murray Hill Mews three blocks south on East 37th Street west of Third Avenue.


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8 User Submissions

    • submitted by: APOPS

      Thank you for your comment. Owners are allowed to impose reasonable rules in their POPS. Prohibiting you from sitting or eating does not sound reasonable. We may be in touch with the owner and will post a response if we obtain one. Feel free to let us know anything more about your use of the space.

  1. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    This profile is specifically about the landscaped terrace between East 41st street and East 40th street that is accessible by stairs from 3rd Ave and by elevator through the plaza between Lexington Ave and 3rd Ave. The terrace is nicely set up, with many planters offering pleasant greenery. Most of the seating is fixed, but there are some movable chairs, as well, that people use to create gathering spots to have a shared lunch with colleagues. The space is heavily used during lunch time, especially on nice days, but not enough that there are never any places to sit. Part of this may be because it is difficult to access. The terrace can only be reached by a steep set of stairs or by an elevator. For much of last year, the stairs were “out of order”, and only the elevator could be used to reach the terrace. My most recent visit found that the elevator is currently out of order, significantly reducing its accessibility. Beyond this major flaw to the terrace, the space also lacks trash cans. Though it is well maintained, and there does not appear to be much trash left behind, recycling and trash containers could be useful. Finally, more movable seating could also add to the terrace, as currently there are a few tables with connected chairs that lead to awkward seating compositions, or leave some of those seats unused.

  2. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    Photo one of landscaped terrace

  3. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    Photo two of landscaped terrace

  4. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    Photo three of landscaped terrace

  5. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    Photo four of landscaped terrace

  6. submitted by: Joanna Farley

    Photo five of landscaped terrace