The federally-owned plaza in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan is about to get a new design. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the composition created by landscape architect Martha Schwartz, ASLA, in the late 1990’s will be replaced by a new iteration from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, working under Wank Adams Slavin Associates (WASA). This will be the fourth design in 20 years, counting the temporary landscape that was installed after Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” sculpture was removed.
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is funding the repair of the waterproofing of the parking garage beneath the square. “The two-year, $5 million to $10 million endeavor entails the demolition of the existing plaza, reinforcement and repair of the parking garage roof, and installation of landscaping, lighting, security features, and other elements.” Because the problems are being fixed now, the project is eligble for recovery funds.
Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, told The Architect’s Newspaper the design will be a “composition of curling and embracing landscape pieces” that will “make clear, welcoming gestures.” The design will retain some of Martha Schwartz’s “pop” landscapes elements, but “simplify the seating and movement across the plaza.” Also, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates will examine “microclimates, wind patterns, and natural and artificial lighting” to improve the visitor’s experience.
The Architect’s Newspaper adds that the changes in the plaza have long mirrored evolving conceptions of urban public spaces. The Richard Serra sculpture caused enough controversy to fill two books and led a judge to order its removal. “The piece, installed under the GSA’s Art in Architecture Program, was further criticized as being inhospitable to federal employees, visitors, and local residents alike.” Additionally, the destruction of the “pop” plaza designed by Martha Schwartz may represent a shift towards “greener urban landscapes” for both office workers and local residents.
Martha Schwartz’s original design, which won a ASLA professional design award in 1997, is described on her Web site: “The new plaza is reconnected to its surrounding context and provides innumerable seating opportunities for people having lunch or just for watching other people. Large planters which formerly existed at the northwest and southeast corners of the site have been removed, as well as the long-empty fountain which had occupied the only sunny portion of the site. By opening up the plaza, the connections between the plaza and the street are reestablished, and the people who wish to sit can do so in either sun or shade.”