Rockefeller Center New York Ny Usa a collaborative design 192834 expanded 194773

Rockefeller Center has been included in this bought the lease to the site from the univer-

collection of case studies because of its pre- sity. His desire was to create a development cedent setting character. Nowadays it might that would improve an area close to his even be regarded as a Neo-Traditional design family home on 54th Street. What was built in the way its buildings meet and form the was the first set of high-rise buildings any-

street. Its designers would be aghast at hearing where forming a single complex rather than such a statement. It was regarded by them as a series of independent edifices. It has

Modernist and still appears so. become a precedent for other such schemes

The Center was built on land owned by around the world. Few, if any, have proved

Columbia University. The site is located in to be as well loved.

the heart of mid-town Manhattan between The idea for the scheme began with the

48th and 51st Streets, and Fifth and Sixth search for a new home by the Metropolitan

Avenues. It had been a fashionable residen- Opera whose building was inadequate and tial area during much of the nineteenth its neighbourhood seedy. In 1928 the Opera century but a series of changes in its neigh- under Otto Kahn developed the idea of mak-

bourhood had had deleterious effects on ing the Opera House part of a multi-use the blocks. In 1928 John D. Rockefeller Jr. complex. A number of potential sites were examined before it was realized that the Columbia University owned mid-town estate was due for re-release. The accumulation of sites held by different lessees proved to be a costly task. The price was 1930$3.6 million plus as much as another million to capture all the leases. The idea for developing the whole rather than part of the site was based on the perception that in doing so a civic space appropriate as a forecourt to the Opera would be financially feasible. The Opera hoped that Rockefeller would be a major benefactor by financing the open space and then by loaning money to the Opera company.

If Rockefeller Center has become a precedent for other designs, it also had precedents. It was inspired not only by Beaux-Arts design principles, but in particular, by the success of Grand Central Terminal, a city within a city. It is, however, a very different complex. Rockefeller first envisaged a commercial centre of three towers with a new Opera House and a plaza as the centrepieces. Designed by Benjamin Morris, it was called Radio City. A second scheme was drawn up by Corbett, Harrison and McMurray, and a third by Benjamin Morris again (see Figure 7.11a). This scheme was developed under the direction of an architectural advisory board operating under the supervision of a realtor, John R. Todd, renowned for his fiscal pragmatism. The scheme did not go ahead as the Metropolitan Opera withdrew from the project and Rockefeller did not control the whole site. Instead what was built is a profit-driven commercial and entertainment centre largely in accordance with Todd's instructions. What endured was the idea of the plaza. It was seen as an extraordinary public gesture because of the price of land but it has proved to be the core of the project and to have increased the profitability of the whole complex.

In October 1929, Todd announced that L. Andrew Reinhard and Henry Hofmeister would produce an overall conceptual diagram (see Figure 7.11b). Their site plan clearly harkens back to the earlier plans by Benjamin Morris. A consortium of architects designed the final scheme. It consisted of Reinhard & Hofmeister, Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray, Raymond Hood, Goodley & Foilhoux, and Edward Durell Stone. The design was, however, very much guided by the aesthetic position taken by Raymond Hood. The overall urban design has Beaux-Arts overtones but the buildings have the streamlined verticality and massing of the Art Deco (see Figure 7.11c). The unity of the scheme is due to Hood's influence and the willingness of the other architects to submerge their own attitudes in order to achieve a single-unified complex. Despite the depression of the 1930s, work proceeded on the project from 1930 onwards. It and the Empire State building were the two major commercial building projects of the 1930s in New York City.

Radio City was able to move forward because of the financial backing of Rockefeller and aggressive marketing. The Center attracted major tenants such as Time Warner and the Associated Press, as well as government offices and consulates of various countries. The complex is a prestigious address and was renamed later the Rockefeller Center. It comprised ten buildings in its initial phase, the last of which was completed in the 1940s. The catalytic building, however, was the RKO motion picture and vaudeville theatre - Radio City Music Hall. Opened in 1932, designed primarily by Raymond Hood but in collaboration with the other firms, it had a full stage and had seating for over 3500 patrons. It is still a major attraction in New York with

concerts by international celebrities and with its Christmas spectacular. The hall spurred development. Rockefeller Center was completed in the 1960s with the erection of the buildings along Sixth Avenue but adaptations to the scheme continue.

The centrepiece of the public space is a sunken plaza backed by a statue (Prometheus by Paul Manship, 1934; see Figures 7.12 and 7.13) and surrounded now by flagpoles carrying the flags of the members of the United Nations. The plaza is reached from Fifth Avenue by a walkway with well-maintained central planting boxes. There were a number of thoughts about what the plaza should be -a forecourt for the Opera House, a promenade lined with trees, and a raised forum surrounded by shopping - before it took its final basement level form. It like many sunken plazas, was lifeless unable to retain the retail uses around it until a skating rink was introduced during the winter months. Made possible by developments in refrigeration technology, it was a last-ditch experiment to get some life into the space. It is now a major attraction not only for skaters but also for spectators. It is surrounded at the basement level by restaurants and a lively if rather dreary shopping concourse that links the development to New York's subway system (see Figure 7.14).

The key building of the project is the RCA building. Its shape was dictated by Todd's assessment that all useable space had to be within 30 feet (9 metres) of windows to be rentable in a time of economic depression. Such a slab building had precedents in Frank Lloyd Wright's San Francisco Press building and in 1920s design explorations of architects including Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. Raymond Hood gave the building its poetic character through a series of setbacks - the first at 100 feet to comply with zoning codes created to ensure some sunlight at ground level. The other setbacks were due to Hood's desire to have all

Figure 7.12 The view towards the Plaza from Fifth Avenue in 1993.

usable space in the building within 22 feet (7 metres) from the windows and for aesthetic effect. There are a number of pioneering aspects to the project. It has an underground parking lot and off-street delivery access. It uses high-speed elevators and is fully air-conditioned. It relied on its own steam and electricity plants. Like many other such complexes it spurred development around it.

In many ways, Rockefeller Center could be regarded as an all-of-a-piece urban design where the design guidelines were set by one firm of architects and followed by different architects designing different buildings. It is considered to be a total urban design here because one development team guided by a strong individual, John Rockefeller, and led by a strong architect, Raymond Hood, put it together. Rockefeller Center today, 70 years later, is 'sparely elegant, modern but civilized and occupying a convenient mid-town location whose horizons embrace both the uptown swells and the more raucous types

Figure 7.14 The concourse level.

downtown' (Mark Steyn cited in Cooke, Major references

2000. 266). The pf°ject remains an exem Balfour, Alan (1978). Rockefeller Center: Architecture plar of a privately funded deVelopment that as Theater. New York. McGraw Hill.

provides for both private and public activi- Sharp, Dennis (1991). Twentieth Century Architecture:

ties. There is little more that one can expect A Visual History. London. Lund Humphries. of an urban design scheme.

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