Oculus - Spring 2014 - (Page 41)

50-year watch A 1964 civic center plan, a product of fierce debate, would have radically transformed New York's City Hall district B Y J OH N MO RRIS DIXO N , FA IA ver since the unification of the five boroughs in 1897, there have been proposals to glorify New York City's municipal government center with nobly-proportioned open spaces and imposing new buildings. The City Hall completed in 1811 (Joseph F. Mangin and John McComb, Jr., architects) was joined during the 1800s by related courthouses and jails, and in 1914 by the commanding 40-story Municipal Building (McKim Mead & White). The only significant open space, however, remained the appealing but unimposing City Hall Park. In the 1920s, a variety of grand civic center schemes appeared. Planning recommendations from the AIA New York Chapter were behind a 1928 proposal by architect Francis Swales for a gargantuan structure, north of City Hall on its axis, covering two city blocks and rising over 1,000 feet. From there, an axial landscaped mall would have extended four blocks farther north. This scheme, and subsequent master plans, called for razing the Tweed Courthouse, which still survives (Oculus, Fall 2013, pg. 49). While the area was subject to planning studies and street widenings in the late 1940s, it was decades before a comparably ambitious civic center scheme was initiated. In 1962 the city commissioned a proposal by architects Max Abramovitz, Simon Breines, and Robert Cutler for the entire area from City Hall Park north to Canal Street. Widely known as the "ABC plan" for its authors' initials, this plan would have created a superblock, with no through streets. A landscaped pedestrian mall extending three blocks north from City Hall was to be set atop a 1,100-car parking garage and a retail concourse. Terminating its uptown end would have been a 40-story city government building. Objections to the ABC plan quickly arose, issuing mainly from the architectural community. The Action Group for Better Architecture in New York (AGBANY) and the New Yorkers for a Civic Center of Excellence (NYCCE), both led by AIA members, claimed the plan suffered from too many city-imposed limitations. The AIANY Chapter was divided, some demanding a design competition to replace the plan, others opposed to denouncing members' work. Pressing for an alternative proposal, philanthropist J.M. Kaplan organized a group called Architecture 13, which included Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, I.M. Pei, and Paul Rudolph, as well as the editors of Architectural Forum and Progressive Architecture. Faced with such formidable challengers, Mayor Robert Wagner commissioned the team of Edward Durell Stone and Eggers & Higgins to draw up a revised plan, which was released in 1964. Their new plan called for razing more existing buildings than the ABC plan, and withdrawing earlier proposals to build others. Municipal functions were now to be centralized in a single Civic Spirit: Civic Visions ©Ezra Stoller/Esto E The 1964 New York Civic Center model, designed by Edward Durell Stone and Eggers and Higgins. 54-story tower. The elevated mall of the earlier plan, which would have obstructed the view of City Hall, was replaced with a sunken plaza lined with shops and restaurants. From there, grids of trees reached west to Broadway and east to Centre Street. The Architectural 13 called the revised scheme a "considerable advance" over the previous version, but expressed reservations about its central tower. In June 1966 Mayor John Lindsay approved the new plan, and the city acquired properties needed to carry it out, but funds to execute it were never appropriated. It became just another civic center pipe dream. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He continues to write for a number of publications, and he received AIANY's 2011 Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award for Excellence in Journalism. Spring 2014 Oculus 41

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2014

Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Some Blocks Over
Opener: Open to the Public: Civic Space Now
The Search for the Soul of Cities
A Different Tale of Two Cities
Public Space Reasserts Its Political Role
Gatherings of One
Time to Welcome Woonerfs
Redesigning the Crossroads of the World
A Magical Place on the Water
How to Remember a Plague
Sustainable Models for a Just City
In Print
50-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2014