New York, NY
Contributed by Project for Public Spaces
Built in 1974 by Gordon Bunschaft, the plaza is formed from the base of the 50-story WR Grace building in Midtown Manhattan.
The slightly raised plaza, which forms the backside of this dramatic building, is dwarfed by the giant windowless North facade. It seems to be primarily a haven for smokers. A glass booth, approximately 25-feet square, dominates the north-west corner of the plaza, perhaps it's best location, since the hulking building, which dramatically slopes back from the sidewalk, dominates the two sides that are not street-fronted.
Some seating and amenities (waste receptacles)have been installed along the north edge of the plaza, and the planters along the south edge of the plaza, which are unfriendly to sitters due to their proximity to the large blank wall behind them, have been interspersed with benches, though these hardly seem like welome places to sit, there were a few braving the alienation when we visited.
What could make this place better? In the late 1970's Project for Public Spaces studied the plaza and recommended food kiosks, lots of movable chairs and small tables, and extensive programming. The plaza does currently have large fixed planters, benches and waste receptacles, but no other amenities, and no programming. Maintenance is frequent, and the area is clean and obviously well-maintained.
History & Background
The WR Grace Building has a spotty history. Its location on 42nd Street, across from Bryant Park, has been elevated recently by the park's extraordinary revitalization. However this particular building is the stepchild of the Solow Building, located several blocks away on 57th Street. Gordon Bunschaft, the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architect who designed both buildings, originally pitched this plan for the 57th Street site, but it was rejected by the developer. That building is curved like this one, but is substantially less severe. The original Solow plan was recycled for WR Grace, who commissioned this building shortly thereafter. The plaza, a necessary amenity due to the building's 50-story height, forms the building's 43rd Street entrance. The "front" entrance of the building is on 42nd Street and has no plaza.
In 1980, William H. Whyte called Grace Plaza "a big, barren slab of a place ... so inhospitable to people that it came to be populated largely by drug dealers." Whyte goes on to narrate how the developer had given up on the building's plaza shortly after opening it, and suggested it be filled-in with a shopping mall. Although the idea had the support of the local community board, it was eventually rejected as it violated the committment the developer had been given to obtain extra floors in exchange for a public plaza.
The plaza has been plagued by water damage and other structural problems that have caused it to be under repair (and subsequently redesigned) often.