Raising the Rock

Rockefeller Center plaza is transformed by circular portals and raised streetscape in a new plan

Rockefeller Center plaza is transformed by circular portals and raised streetscape in a new proposal. Exterior rendering of the proposed plaza (Courtesy Rockefeller Group)

A 1960s-era sunken courtyard at the former McGraw-Hill Building is set to rise following a “sweeping transformation,” according to the New York Post. While the current plaza is half-buried and disconnected from the sidewalk, the Rockefeller Group and Italy-based Citterio-Viel & Partners architects have announced plans to raise the public clearing to ground level and knit the streetscape back together.

Opened in 1969 as part of the Rockefeller Center complex expansion, the space sits between West 48th and West 49th streets and pays homage to the popular recessed design of the original Rockefeller Plaza. Designed by Wallace Harrison, the plaza currently cuts off retail access from the street.

The redevelopment, estimated to cost in the “mid-to-high eight digits,” the Post reports, will fill in the below-ground public space with 2 levels of retail across 35,000 square feet, while turning the topside into a pedestrian-friendly plaza. The architects have chosen to reference the original design by including a large aperture in the center of the space, flanked by a set of descending staircases on each side that looks down on the businesses below. Citterio-Viel & Partners have also proposed updating the pavement to “reflect” the vertical facade of 1221 6th Avenue by extending lighter stone stripes from the base of the building.

The current view from McGraw-Hill plaza (Flickr/Wally Gobetz)

What’s unclear at this time is what will happen to the public art pieces currently on display. The 50 foot tall stainless steel “Sun Triangle,” designed by futurist Athelstan Spilhaus, has been in the courtyard since the building’s opening but is nowhere to be found in this new rendering. The abstract sculpture references the Earth’s position relative to the sun, with each leg pointed to the sun’s position during solar noon at the summer and winter solstice. One of the few elements of the plaza viewable from the street, the triangle cuts a sharp contrast against the McGraw-Hill Building behind it.

Rockefeller Group Senior Vice President Bill Edwards has stated that construction will only begin after an anchor tenant for the retail space has been locked down, with construction estimated to finish in 2019.

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