The area around Penn Station is one of the grittiest and busiest in NYC. For a few months last summer, the space was given over to the pedestrian. Plaza 33, a temporary pilot project, was designed and implemented in six weeks and transformed the space into an oasis in the city. Utilizing removable measures, the unique design created an identity which attracted pedestrians to stop and gather as well as allowed for the large volume of people flowing to and from the station. That this change was accomplished in only six weeks is a testament to the collaborative efforts of the designer, builder and owner of the project. It also demonstrates how landscape architecture in even a relatively small space and time can positively change the identity and ecology of a place.
Plaza 33, a pilot project, temporarily closed 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Madison’s Square Garden loading dock, replacing vehicles with shaded lunch tables, folding chairs and planter benches, while maintaining required firetruck and service access. Utilizing removable measures, the design unifies the space and allows for thru pedestrian traffic, some of the heaviest in the city, as well as places to get out of the flow and people watch, eat lunch or just gather with friends. The main bleacher stadium element is multi-functional, incorporating stage, seating viewing and planting areas. Its height screens the loading dock beyond and allows views out beyond the site to the Seventh Ave illuminated signage and the Empire State Building. The bleacher was “cut” to allow for thru passage, while the lower section provides additional seating in the former street bed. Planters edge the “cut” and vines drape over the walls, providing an interesting passage for pedestrians as well as minimizing railings. The street and sidewalks were painted a simple pattern to unify the place.
The design played on the asymmetrical existing conditions of the street. The street edge on the south side was elevated and lined with heavy planter walls interrupted by stairs. The north side was not elevated and includes a mid-block pedestrian corridor. We convinced the client to tear down several of the walls and planters on their private property to create a continuous stair (except where the standpipes existed where we kept the planter) along 33rd Street. This permanent construction in concrete opened the upper level retail to the street and also opened the corner of the site for pedestrian access. The temporary planters, benches and stadium seating areas were built out of timber framing and were added to both the public and private areas of the project to unify them. Wooden seating platforms were added on the resulting long step edge to accommodate further seating. A major work of art, Roy Litchenstein’s 33 foot tall “Brushstroke Group” was placed on this corner. Keith Harings “S Man,” a light blue figure nearer to human scale, was placed on the axis of the pedestrian alleyway to the north.
Collaboration between the designers and builders of the project allowed for the tight schedule to be met. The designers created measured drawings in plan and section, and the contractors went immediately to shop drawings. The elements were fabricated off site and brought in and assembled in place, reducing actual construction time at the site.
The space was heavily programmed with movie nights, dancing, musical performances, and much more throughout the three months of the street closure, demonstrating what a New York City street could become without vehicular access.
The design added needed vegetation to the street. Though not extensive it had amazing impact, again showing what high benefit small changes can make.
The street has now been returned to traffic. Planter benches were reused on the private site and still provide much used seating. Plans are now underway to reopen the plaza again this coming summer for a three year period this time. All pieces will be reused and new elements including more seating and a larger stage will improve the space further. These experiments are helping to fashion a new vision of the Penn Station area for the future.
33rd St at 7 Ave, Manhattan, New York City, NY
Vornado Realty Trust
W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC
W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, LLC
Transportation Consultant: Sam Schwartz Engineering
Plant Supplier: Plantus
Saul Metnick, Barbara Wilks
W is an interdisciplinary woman-owned studio which builds on links between architecture and landscape architecture to create spaces that engage both nature and urbanism. Our office is in New York, and we have projects in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.
W is organized around the commitment of Principal Barbara Wilks to quality design and active participation in all levels of the firm’s projects. With over 35 years of experience, she believes that effective leadership on complex projects requires vision, a collaborative and talented team, effective communication, and persistent commitment to finding solutions to project goals and aspirations. The staff is organized in a flexible studio manner and includes experienced project managers, urban designers, landscape architects and LEED accredited professionals, who engage in each project through its successful completion.